Championing Ontario Food at Ontario Colleges
Is it better for the environment to eat an apple grown 100 kms away or one grown 1000 kms away?
The answer is obvious, but not always put into practice on an institutional level.
Ontario’s 24 colleges are surrounded by 12.7 million acres of productive agricultural lands yet, in most cases, the food served at Ontario colleges is imported or the amount of local content is not traceable. This means that food often travels thousands of kilometres before it’s served to students and staff.
The goal is to build a local food procurement model for all 24 Ontario colleges
“Finding ways to increase the amount of Ontario-grown food served at colleges across the province would benefit our regional economy, support healthy students, and enhance the sustainability of college food services operations.”
Each year, food services operations at Ontario colleges serve over 224,000 students and staff, and generate $65 million in annual food service sales. For many busy students and staff, campus food services are a key source of food and a major contributor to daily diets.
"This presents a huge opportunity,” says Alan Griffiths, Manager of the Mohawk College Sustainability Office. “Finding ways to increase the amount of Ontario-grown food served at colleges across the province would benefit our regional economy, support healthy students, and enhance the sustainability of college food services operations.”
Many Ontario colleges are embracing sustainability as an educational and operational priority, but few institutions have been able to address the environmental impact of their food services operations, even though food production is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, the global food system is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. “The distance that our food travels matters. For each kilometre, there are associated greenhouse gas emissions. If the majority of the food sold on campus is imported, that means our foodservices operations contribute thousands of tonnes of CO2 annually. A focus on locally grown and processed foods in college cafeterias would drastically reduce this impact,” Griffiths notes.
So Mohawk College is creating a solution. In partnership with the Greenbelt Fund and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Mohawk has been awarded $100,000 to lead a two year research-based pilot project aimed at increasing the amount of local food served by Ontario college foodservices.
“Our goal is to build a local food procurement model for all 24 Ontario colleges."
The project team will be comprised of college staff and students. The project will be guided by an advisory committee that will have members from local food industries, the Hamilton community, and Mohawk students. The team will begin with the research phase in order to identify and better understand current barriers to local food procurement at Ontario Colleges.
To address the identified barriers, Mohawk will work closely with its on-campus foodservice providers to launch a local food procurement pilot project. In 2017, Mohawk’s pilot project results will inform the implementation of pilot projects at two additional colleges in Ontario. The pilot projects will test the solutions and best practices in local food procurement established at Mohawk.
“Our goal is to build a local food procurement model for all 24 Ontario colleges. This model will be scalable and transferable so every college in Ontario can re-focus on procuring, serving, advertising, and celebrating Ontario food,” explains Griffiths.
With the development and implementation of Mohawk’s Environmental Management Plan, the College is already widely recognized as a leader in the design and implementation of campus sustainability solutions.
The College has also been recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the last three years.
“This project represents another important opportunity to collaborate with our students, peer institutions, local food providers and community partners to develop custom solutions that will make all colleges in Ontario more sustainable,” says Griffiths.
Mohawk College educates and serves 30,000 full-time, part-time, apprenticeship and international students at three campuses and two City School locations at the Eva Rothwell Resource Centre and the Central Public Library in Hamilton, Ontario. Mohawk has ranked first among all Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area colleges in student satisfaction for seven consecutive years and first in graduate satisfaction for the past five years. Mohawk ranks 15th among all colleges in Canada for applied research activity and has been named among Canada’s greenest employers and the region’s top employers for the past three years.