University of Kentucky's Local Food Leadership

Smart institutions remind me of an old hymn: "Brighten the corner where you are." The University of Kentucky Dining Services has earned a reputation for investing in Kentucky's own farm economy, brightening the tastes on Kentucky students' plates and improving Kentucky growers' incomes. Across several years UK Dining Services Executive Chef Scott Kohn and others have invented smart purchasing, storage, preparation, and distribution methods that support annual increases in UK's purchase of locally grown meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables. Linda Blackford reported recently in the Lexington Herald-Leader that UK bought about $800,000 from Kentucky growers last year.

Now Chef Kohn, his colleague Zlatan Prasovic, and UK College of Agriculture meat scientist Gregg Rentfrow introduce a new innovation: High quality butchery and charcuterie made from well-grown Kentucky meats, open to the public two afternoons a week on campus, open to the public. Here's how Aimee Nelson describes the offerings for University of Kentucky News:

The shop will offer a variety of products including dry-aged ground beef, dry-cured bacon, breakfast sausage, ground chorizo and chorizo snack sticks. Kohn and Prasovic have also created some unique items including a cheese bratwurst they call Wildcat Tail, a bourbon apple bratwurst made with locally produced apples and Kentucky bourbon, dry-cured bacon and an array of spices that are not found at large retail outlets.

I'm hungry.

Hat tip to SKA for this information, and for sending this campus map so all of us hungry carnivores can find the Garrigus building on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Look for building 215 on the map. It is near the intersection of Nicholasville Road and Cooper Drive. I can't advise you about parking, so may The Space be with you.

There's more to this story. UK Dining Services operates in-house as part of the university, serving the central campus dining halls. This ownership of dining services offers UK a great deal of control over food quality and sources. Most of UK's benchmark schools maintain in-house dining services. By contrast, most Southeastern Conference schools and most other colleges and universities in Kentucky contract with private companies to operate their dining services. (At UK, private companies run the food service for the hospital complex and athletic facilities.)

Late in 2012, the University of Kentucky apparently began considering a change in its dining services management. In December, 2012, Linda Blackford reported, "UK considers privatizing dining services." The Lexington Herald-Leader followed Linda's January update with this editorial: Keep local foods: UK dining contract must make it a priority.

We're not economists at Savoring Kentucky, but we bump into a term from that discipline fairly often: externality—"transaction spillover... a cost or benefit that is not transmitted through prices." Many examples of externalities are negative. For example, in spite of high gasoline prices, we do not pay enough at the pump to clean up the problems we cause by burning that fuel—problems like reducing summer scenic vistas in the Great Smoky Mountains by 80 percent.

Some externalities can be positive. UK Dining Services' support for Kentucky producers ripples out beyond the students and staff who eat delicious, high quality food. The benefits extend to Kentucky families that find it easier to make farm payments and communities that can invest more in youth programs. UK Dining Services shows what a great public university can do when it takes a large view, exercises the benefits of ownerships and positive control, considers the comprehensive impact of policies and practices on a state's well-being, and avoids making decisions based solely on narrow definitions of temporary efficiencies.

Hungry diners at Ovid's Café, University of Kentucky

Hungry diners at Ovid's Café, University of Kentucky

Students interested in working toward healthy, fairly produced food at their universities have an unusual opportunity on February 23 to take part in Farm to Campus Convergence at Western Kentucky University, a Real Food Challenge workshop. Sarah Fritschner, coordinator for Louisville Farm to Table, says,

Saturday is an all-day training, with guidance and input from Real Food Challenge  particularly aimed at students and others who want their universities to support "real" food (local, fair trade etc). Usually Real Food Challenge does regional workshops, not very close to us, but we have an organizer who lives in Eastern Kentucky who has agreed to do this one-day workshop for WKU students -- a first in Kentucky.

Our universities, and our students, can lead us to significant, permanent changes in Kentucky agriculture, farm income, and community income. It's brighter in my corner already, thanks to them.