Local Meets Institutional

Cal Poly Humboldt prioritizes Local Food Vendors.
by Kimiko McNeill, Cooperation Humboldt

While many university dining programs are often filled with heavily processed foods that have traveled from thousands of miles away to support corporate chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, and more – some universities across the country have begun to shift toward providing more nutritious, plant-based food options for students.

Along these lines, Humboldt Dining, Cal Poly Humboldt’s dining provider, stands in a place of leadership as it continues to bring more locally owned food vendors, local produce and locally crafted retail products onto the Cal Poly Humboldt campus. According to campus Executive Chef, Mariano Lalica, “While other universities have committed to buying more local produce and meats, Humboldt Dining is one of the only food service providers offering as many local food vendors as we do.”

It’s a refreshing change to enter Humboldt Dining’s different dining locations and see products from well-known local businesses. Lalica says that students are excited to see offerings on campus from local restaurants that they enjoy in the community.

In Cal Poly Humboldt’s J Dining Hall, 25% of the produce comes from local farmers and producers, including local dairy from Humboldt Creamery and produce from local farms including micro-farm Palmer Farms in Fortuna. The J-Grill, located inside the dining hall, features locally raised grass-fed beef.

The Depot features restaurants including Los Bagels, Wildflower Cafe, Hey Juan Burritos, Obento, Kinetic Koffee, and Wild Blue Sushi.

In College Creek Marketplace you can find local restaurant A Taste of Bim as well as many local retail products such as snacks from HumYum and Kind Jerky and tasty treats and pastries from The Grind Cafe.

Bigfoot Burgers proudly pours local Lost Coast Brewery beers and Humboldt Brewery ciders served alongside locally raised grass-fed beef burgers.

Humboldt Dining Catering, in addition to many locally sourced ingredients, features Trinity River Vineyards wines and Muddy Waters Coffee.

All across the Cal Poly Humboldt campus you can find local food options provided by local Humboldt County businesses.

What fueled Humboldt Dining’s shift to supporting more local businesses? James Richards, Resident District Manager, says, “It is simply the right thing to do. We need to support local businesses and it relates to one of our key dining philosophies: ‘Buy Local.’ It means less reliance on big chains, local foods just taste better, the food didn’t spend two days on a truck…if there is food growing around us, then that’s the food that we want to buy.”

There have been challenges with shifting to local vendors to supply the dining needs of so many students. The dining hall prepares thousands of meals per week, and this can make it difficult for produce to be sourced from a single farm or even multiple local farms. Humboldt Dining’s goal is to buy as much food as possible from within a 250 mile radius; however, half of that range falls in the Pacific Ocean, which makes it difficult to source enough fresh produce year-round.

Despite these limitations, the shift made by Humboldt Dining will have huge positive repercussions for the local community and can help fuel a shift that is necessary for the sustainability of our food systems.

Richards and Lalica are hopeful that other universities will find inspiration and learn from what Humboldt Dining at Cal Poly Humboldt has done to promote local purchasing. Richards would advise other institutions interested in expanding their local purchasing, “Go to the farmer’s market, go to local fairs, shop local, hit the small shops and build relationships. It’s more difficult and you have to be willing to work harder…but when you have the right team of people who have the same dream, it honestly feels less like work and more like you’re doing the right thing for everyone.”

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Kimiko McNeill (she/her) is a healer and caregiver working as an occupational therapist doing physical rehabilitation in an outpatient clinic. She also helps to anchor Cooperation Humboldt’s food team.

Large organizations with significant purchasing power wield immense power to strengthen local food systems. Here’s how.

There has been a national trend toward increasing food options grown and raised by small farmers and local food producers in institutions like universities, grade schools, and hospitals.

This indicates a shift in institutional priorities away from simply minimizing costs (at the expense of student and patient health) and toward realizing the immense positive impacts on public health and local economies that could be made possible through the purchasing policies of these large institutions.

In rural regions like the North Coast, there are always challenges to meeting the large demand that institutions like Cal Poly Humboldt have. This is one of the main goals of North Coast Growers’ Association’s (NCGA’s) food hub: to build up our inadequate local food infrastructure and create systems for the ordering, aggregation, and distribution of local food so that the high quality, local food our farmers produce can easily move from field to dining hall tray to fork.

The creation of a regional food hub is timely, and now more important than ever. With no entity or centralized system in place to empower large institutions to access more food from local farmers and food producers, our community is losing out on an amazing opportunity.

Bringing NCGA’s vision for a regional food hub to fruition will help redirect the large food budgets of institutions like Cal Poly Humboldt and many others away from food from outside of the region, and toward more healthful and ecologically friendly local options that support area farmers and small businesses.

The benefits of a local food hub are tremendous – improving community health, strengthening our local economy, building resilience, and giving the students, patients, and clients of our area’s large institutions the opportunity to connect more deeply to Humboldt’s community through the food they eat.

Posted in 2022 Community Food Guide.