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Keith Soster
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MDining moves closer to 20 percent local purchase goal

In nine dining halls, catering services and more than two dozen markets and cafés located across the Ann Arbor campus, MDining serves approximately 25,000 meals a day -- over 4 million per year. The menus are student-driven and often come from suggestions provided by students. One of those suggestions was to go local with food purchasing.

Purchasing local and sustainable food is part of the university's 2025 sustainability initiative. It is also something we in MDining know students are passionate about. Working with students in this way is not new. In just the past academic year, MDining collaborated with more than 100 student groups or organizations that focused on sustainable projects and/or food.       Chef Nelson Cummings

My recently retired colleague, Executive Chef Nelson “Buzz” Cummings was at the forefront of the local food movement. For many years he has worked with students and dining staff to purchase and use more locally grown, organic and healthy meals. Cummings asked U-M students to come up with a slogan, and "Go Blue, Eat Local" began to represent the movement. He worked to help incorporate local food purchasing into the day-to-day dining practices and the first local dinner at the University was served at East Quad in 2006.

Since then, MDining has reorganized and expanded its ability to “cook and prep from scratch” while increasing its sourcing from local farms and food producers. From Lake Michigan whitefish to apples from Dale Lesser’s farms, MDining has led the way in changing sourcing habits for institutional scale food service providers. More than 30 Michigan farmers and suppliers provide MDining with fruits, vegetables, honey and more. Last year, MDining spent 12.7 percent of its 15 million dollar budget on local and sustainable foods.

“Local food” is defined by U-M as being “grown in the state of Michigan or within 250 miles of the Ann Arbor campus. Processed foods are considered to be locally sourced if the processing facility is located within a 250-mile radius of Ann Arbor and where at least 50 percent of the ingredients are also sourced from within a 250-mile radius of the processing facility.”

So what does “buying local” mean specifically?

  • MDining dairy is provided by Prairie Farms (based in Battle Creek, Michigan), a co-op of more than 100 small farms within the state. Prairie Farms Dairy currently has over 1,000 projects in place focusing on sustainability.
  • Meat comes from Quality Meats (Detroit), which uses only locally grown beef, pork, poultry.
  • MDining seafood is MSC (Marine Steward Council) certified. Coffee comes from Royale Roasters (Ann Arbor), is custom blended for us. Students like you helped select our blend, which is organic and fair trade.
  • Metropolitan Bakery, family owned and located in Detroit for 70 years, supplies all of our bread. They use local ingredients to make those delicious carbs.
  • Todosciuks (Howell), Zilkes (Milan) and Lesser (Dexter) farms are the main suppliers of locally grown produce.

It’s clear to see that within MDining, listening to students’ great ideas and “going local” is a top priority!

Keith Soster is the Director of Student Engagement for MDining. At the core of Keith’s work is outreach, putting him in constant with students, suppliers and campus stakeholders with a focus on advancing initiatives for a greener, healthier campus. He is responsible for student and community connections both on and off campus, and serves as the sustainability lead for Student Life.