Behind the large metal containers filled with the bar of the day and down a hall leading to the kitchen, you can find a team of your fellow peers and community members peeling pounds of tomatillos or baking fresh apple pies. Every day, Sharples employees and staff such as Linda McDougall, Director of Dining Services, Mary Kassab, Allergen Awareness Coordinator, Benton Peak, Executive Chef, and Joshua Szczypiorski, Production Manager, are working to meet the demands of the school and provide fresh, locally-sourced food to the Swarthmore community under their designated operating budget.
Sharples is a self-operating system on Swarthmore’s campus that adheres to the same budget lines and oversight as any other department on campus. According to Szczypiorski, once their operating budget is determined and awarded, the Swarthmore Dining staff is tasked with allocating funds towards purchasing food for the Swarthmore campus, maintenance within Sharples, and payment for students and staff. According to Swarthmore’s Institutional Research, food services has been allotted $2.94 million per year since 1999 part of which includes the Sharples budget.
When proposing yearly budgets to the college in early Spring, Dining Services takes into account the changes in food items, vendors, equipment, and staff that occur throughout the year. Szczypiorski works closely with this budget and fellow staff members. Szczypiorski also utilizes methods such as the Napkin Board to acquire student feedback.
The Napkin Board, a visit to the Sharple’s offices, or an email to Dining Services allows students and community members to provide their opinions and feedback to staff members. From these thumbtacked napkins, including other forms of feedback, the Dining Service team tries to bring in, replace, and try out some of the many suggestions they receive.
“We have a very different clientele here at Swarthmore. Based on what the needs are and how big our international student body is, we try our best to bring different tastes of the world and whatever they are used to,” said Szczypiorski. “Mainly people requesting things and bringing them to our attention is how new foods come into Sharples. A lot of the new things we bring in don’t really rock the budget. In the grand scheme of things, everything levels out and we typically spend the same amount of money”.
Just as new products are brought to the Sharples dining hall, such as sunbutter or a new brand of catfish at fish taco bar, new recipes flow in and out of the kitchen as well. With help from students and ideas from what Kassab called “the Culinary Team”, which consists of Sous Chefs, the Executive Chef, and purchasing managers, the 4-week rotation of meals receives new additions and changes.
“It really is a matter of us saying here is something we have seen in the culinary world, here is something we have seen in food literature, and here is a bar that is popular, but here are some bones of something that we can logistically change and serve,” said Kassab. “We ask ourselves questions like can we pull this off in this time frame, setting, and with our budget? How can we mix and change things up?”
With Sharples acting as a self-operating system, the “Culinary Team” is given the freedom and flexibility to try out new bars and food items. As new ideas are presented, Dining Services works with over 25 vendors to collaborate and execute their ideas. The vendors used by the Swarthmore Dining services are based on the quality of the product they are ordering and the long standing relationships Swarthmore has with some of their local vendors.
“In addition to buying directly from local food producers, Dining Services is proud to work with a number of local, privately owned and operated food distributors. Each of these companies feature locally produced items, provide employment to area residents, and support their communities. For example our main grocery supplier, Feesers Food Distributors, is based in Harrisburg, PA and in turn provides us with many local brands,” the Swarthmore Dining Services page states.
Just as Swarthmore sources a majority of their products from a series of local vendors, other institutions in the TriCo take advantage of local businesses, but are not as involved. Bryn Mawr, however, “offers local fruits seasonally and are working to increase the proportion of local foods available in the Dining Halls”, as written on the Bryn Mawr Dining Services page. Similarly, Haverford “offers a wide variety of “made from scratch” items daily using fresh ingredients that are local and organic whenever possible”, as expressed on the Haverford Dining Services page.
For years, Dining Services has been sourcing local food vendors and items to bring to the Swarthmore community. As new items are purchased, new ideas are pitched, and food options expand, the Swarthmore Dining Service team is working to utilize their budget to accommodate the evolving needs of their students.