Much of the produce on students' plates comes from the Chesterhill Produce Auction.
Nov 12, 2010
By Cara Frelick
Does your dining hall produce taste especially flavorful and fresh this year? According to Ohio University Executive Chef Matt Rapposelli, much of the produce and other products at the dining hall are “as fresh as it gets,” thanks to this year’s increase in locally grown fare.
For the past four years, Ohio University has been purchasing local foods for the dining halls, West 82 and Latitude 39 through the Chesterhill Produce Auction,* located approximately 30 miles from Athens.
Ohio University recently upped its local food purchases as result of increased networking with local farmers. This past year, 3.5 percent of the University’s annual produce came from the Chesterhill Produce Auction.
The decision, according to Rapposelli, stems from a desire to provide high-quality and environmentally sustainable products, while supporting regional agriculture.
“Number one from our standpoint here at the University, we are getting a great quality product,” Rapposelli said. “We are getting fresh ingredients at the peak of their flavor that we may not be able to get commercially.”
Farmers in the area annually provide 175,000 pounds of produce to the University, thanks to increased demand. According to the Ohio University Office of Sustainability, the Chesterhill Produce Auction increased their total sales by eight percent in the past year.
In the past, Rapposelli said local farmers were unable to provide the quantities needed to support the 500,000 pounds of produce purchased each year for University dining halls.
“It was more of a hassle to try and incorporate it than it was worth,” he explained.
But this mentality changed when Rapposelli first visited the auction four years ago.
The aggregate crop - brought to market by growers across the region - was enough to meet the University’s demand so Rapposelli began purchasing from the auction that year.
After the first season, local farmers began to coordinate their planting for Ohio University, collectively growing large quantities of the items in high demand.
“Networking has been fantastic because the selection and quantity at the auction has grown,” Rapposelli said. “As we make more connections with local producers, the amount of local items increases.”
Not only do local foods taste fresh and flavorful, they also keep the money within the community.
“It’s the right thing to do for all of us, because we are supporting the local community and the money stays within the community,” Raposelli said “It’s a win-win situation.”
Although local food purchases are comparable and in many cases less expensive than commercial products, Rapposelli believes the real benefit lies in the quality of local foods.
“If we buy the absolute best quality commercial tomato, it’s still a commercial tomato that was genetically bred for shipping,” Rapposelli explained. “That flavor never compares to the tomato that was picked that day, 30 miles away.”
The local food movement has also gained attention on the national stage.
A main focus of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move*” campaign is to supply locally grown products to people throughout the country, especially in areas where they do not have access, such as the Appalachian region. Obama has even adopted locavore principals in the White House, favoring local fare for her family due to its superior freshness, flavor and quality.
At Ohio University, Rapposelli said Dining Services will continue to purchase as many locally grown products as possible.
At the same time, the department is creating new ways to use locally grown food in meals. Renovations to the Central Food Facility will allow local products to be preserved for longer periods of time, so that students will be able to enjoy local fare year round.
Jean Konkle, one of the founders of the Chesterhill Produce Auction in Chesterhill, Ohio, talks about the evolution of the auction and its importance to the community.*
Executive Chef Matt Rapposelli explains the purchasing process of this operation, as well as the benefits it brings the school and community.*