A Perfect 10 For Food At Yale

It’s positive news that an increasing number of applicants to America’s colleges and universities consider the green credentials of the colleges they may attend [www.treehugger.com/files/2009/05/7-out-of-10-college-bound-students-prefer-green-universities.php].  In the Sierra Club’s most recent annual ranking of planet preserving colleges and universities, the Ivies’ Yale University ranked 14th overall in the ranking of 135 schools [www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200909/coolschools/allrankings.aspx], but in the category for Food, it scored a perfect 10 out of 10.  It was the only college and university to score this high with a perfect 10.  There were three others scoring a 9:  UC Berkeley, Stanford and Bastyr University, an institution with a special focus on the study of natural healing, in the Seattle area (www.bastyr.edu/default.asp).  But UC Berkeley and Stanford are in temperate California where local agriculture thrives year-round, with the Seattle area, where Bastyr University is located, almost as temperate.  So it is indeed a special accomplishment for Yale, with its cold and often snowy winter season, to score a perfect 10.

Without any doubt, Yale earned its perfect 10.  In May, 2003, the university established The Farm, which today is a productive organic farm that produces hundreds of varieties of vegetable, fruits, herbs, and flowers.  Located in the city of New Haven, The Farm is a 15-minute walk north of the Old Campus.  Only one acre, The Farm is also described on the website of the Yale Sustainable Food Project as a “4 season market garden” [www.yale.edu/sustainablefood/farm.html].

In addition to the success of The Farm, Yale earned high ratings for the food served by establishing its own Yale Dining Services.  Now nearly 50% of the food served in the university’s 14 dining halls is “local, seasonal or organic” with an emphasis on “non-altered food products.”  The emphasis on local food deserves special praise.  Still, Yale properly considers the growing practices of its local providers and is sensitive in the way it evaluates farmers, particularly fruit growers, who practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  According to information on the website of the Yale Sustainable Food Project: “IPM growers are generally more ecologically sound than their conventional counterparts, but because there is a large range of behavior with IPM practices, we try to familiarize ourselves with the growers before we come to rely on them.”  An example of this thoughtful evaluation is the university’s relationship with its “favorite apple grower”:  Wayne Young at High Hill Orchard, which “hardly uses any pesticides at all and grows incredibly delicious apples.”  Yale buys a large portion of the crop each fall of High Hill Orchard, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm located in Meriden, Connecticut (New Haven County) [www.ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm].

Yale’s commitment to serving a seasonal, sustainable menu even in the winter in New England is also praiseworthy.  The Yale Sustainable Food Project takes “inspiration” from “how much better food can be when one follow the seasons, even the cold ones.”  The Project notes on its website that “unheated or minimally heated greenhouses, root storage, and some canning and freezing allow for a delicious menu throughout the coldest months.  Some ingredients, like parsnips and certain salad greens, are at their peak during the coldest months.”

What is Yale’s secret in accomplishing this feat?  Can it be Alice Waters’ participation in the Yale Sustainable Food Project? The legendary owner of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse was devoted to getting the Project started, and the Project notes that “She has been a source of inspiration and has pushed to keep our standards high.”  Still, Yale’s inspiring commitment to “local, seasonal or organic food” has sparked Brown and Harvard to hire staff to establish similar programs, and Emory, Columbia and the University of Nebraska have asked Yale for permission to use the Project’s printed educational materials in developing their own programs.  It may have started with a spark from Alice Waters, but now it’s growing and blossoming.  Bravo! (FB 8/5/10)

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