Where Does Sharples Food Come From?

Have you ever wondered where the food in Sharples comes from?

If that food is seafood, chances are it originated somewhere in the United States. Sharples has begun purchasing seafood from Sea to Table, a food distributor that works exclusively with American fishermen that utilize sustainable fishing practices.

“Our hope is that buying fish direct[ly] from small-scale sustainable wild fisheries will not just be a trend on the menus of hipster chefs, but a lifestyle choice for anyone who cares about the future of our traditional working waterfronts,” wrote the company on its Huffington Post blog.

“We do our best to purchase from them,” said Linda McDougall, Director of Dining Services, even though not all of the fish in Sharples comes from the distributor. Dining Services does look to purchase from local, sustainable sources whenever possible, said McDougall. However, finding local produce is not always easy.

“It’s very difficult for [small farmers] to be the farmer and the distributor,” said McDougall. Nevertheless, dining services will often go to the local Swarthmore and Media farmers’ markets looking for new sources, or buy from the Common Market of Philadelphia, a distributor that provides a centralized location for sustainable farmers from the Delaware Valley and southern New Jersey to sell their produce.

The Common Market buys from approximately 80 farmers throughout the region and sells to other colleges, hospitals, retailers, and even specific workplaces. According to their website, their food is 1200 miles fresher than non local food on average. Much of the food in Sharples also comes from Feeser’s Food Distributors, a Harrisburg-based company that provides the college with food exclusively from Pennsylvania-based businesses. Among these are Kreider Farms which won the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s “Family Farm Environmental Excellence Award” in 2008 for their waste management program. However, the list also includes ASK Foods, Inc, which supplies pre-prepared foods, and the Bachmann Company, which produces an assortment of pretzel-based snacks, both of which do not have the same obvious commitment to environmental stewardship as the former.

Students especially appreciate these organic products on nights such as Local Foods Night at Sharples, when dining services makes an extra effort to provide the best the Delaware Valley has to offer. “There isn’t much of a difference,” said McDougall in reference to Local Foods Night compared to any other dinner at Sharples, “one of the things that can be frustrating is that every chicken we buy cannot be organic.”

Doing so would be too costly. According to Janet Kassab, Director of Purchasing for Dining Services, the chicken used on Local Foods Night is a little more than twice as expensive than chicken on other nights. Furthermore, Local Foods Night requires about 25% more produce in general, a fact that further increases cost.

Sharples has worked with the Good Food Project, a campus group that focuses on food sustainability issues and also runs a vegetable garden, but the project’s summer growing season does not overlap with the height of Dining Services’ need and the garden does not produce at the scale necessary to feed hundreds of students every day. Nevertheless, local food will continue to be a prevalent factor in Dining Services’ buying.

“We are always looking for opportunities to grow the program,” said McDougall.

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