Associate Director of Dining Services and Executive Chef Ken Cardone is excited about the tomatoes in the salad bars of Moulton and Thorne.
"We get our tomatoes from Backyard Farms, which is an incredible enterprise that can grow the crop year-round in a 42-acre glass greenhouse via solar heat and bee pollination. They produce about 150,000 pounds of tomatoes a day," he said. "It's remarkable to see the scale and efficiencies they have up there."
Backyard Farms, located 40 minutes north of Waterville in Madison, Maine, is just one of the 35 local vendors used by dining services in their production process. Reports from the 2008 to 2009 academic year reveal that the Dining Service receives 27 percent of their products and services from local vendors. They are making efforts to increase this number by fostering partnerships with local farms and industries.
Eating locally in Maine poses multiple problems, due to short growing seasons and climate variability. The majority of food imports to the state of Maine is regionally based from markets in Boston and New York.
"If we tried to eat completely locally, we'd have very limited supplies because of our growing seasons. We'd be living on cabbage and rutabagas year round," said Cardone.
However, Bowdoin makes 80 percent of its total purchases from the Augusta-based North Center Foods, a subdivision of the national Performance Food Group. North Center Foods draws its products from a nation wide base, using Augusta as a northeastern terminal. Working more locally, the Dining Service collaborates with Farm Fresh Connections LLC, a company that draws products from a number of Maine farms.
The Dining Service makes a concerted effort to frequent midcoast area vendors. Seafood comes from the Harbor Fish Market in Portland and Quahog Lobster in Harpswell, dairy products and juice are supplied by Portland's Oakhurst Dairy and ice cream is from Shain's of Maine Ice Cream in Sanford.
Additionally, the Dining Service purchases beef from Luce Farms, Inc., in North Anson, Maine. Additional vendors range from the Lincolnville-based Heiwa Tofu to Frosty's Donuts on Maine Street.
"The state is really moving forward in making local food more available into the quantities we require. We've worked hard for a number of years to coordinate with all the local growers and vendors," said Purchasing Manager Jon Wiley.
Coordinating deliveries of these products—Wiley estimates that Dining Service inventories approximately 4,000 items per week—can be difficult. Again, the Maine's climate factors in, because shipping in tandem with production and growth cycles from various regions requires careful advance planning.
The Dining Service writes its menus seasonally, planning menus four to five weeks in advance and purchasing products on an item-by-item basis.
"We plan so far in advance to make sure we can actually obtain the products that are required to produce the menu," said Cardone. "When you're in the Northeast, sometimes you have to plan a little farther in advance to get the products you need."
"We also work with a number of student groups and academic partners for occasional theme dinners," he added.
Using a computerized production system called CBORD, a staff member will enter formulas, recipes and production amounts to create a comprehensive service menu for a given week. The system then produces an educated meal count, generating production amounts and a basic grocery list.
Armed with this data, the Dining Service holds weekly menu meetings to meet with vendors to discuss purchases, market issues and deals.
North Center Foods, the Augusta-based vendor, is on campus four days a week to deliver these purchases to dining operations at Moulton, Thorne and Smith Union. Farm Fresh Connections also delivers on a frequent basis. Because the campus's capacity for storage is limited, vendors bring products as needed.
Cardone noted that the Dining Service makes an effort to ensure that the delivery process is as environmentally friendly as possible.
"[Farm Fresh operations director] Martha Putnam is able to source locally to deliver to our door with one truck, so we don't get multiple trucks backing up to our door and consuming energy, fuel and labor time," said Cardone.
The sustainability aspect remains an integral thread of Bowdoin Dining Service. According to its environmental mission statement, Dining Service seeks to "select and monitor 'best practice' sustainability indicators suitable for dining operations."
These indicators play a large role in the selection criteria for vendors and producers.
"When we select vendors, we put into consideration their environmental survey. Anyone who has a contract with dining services is required to fill out a sustainability survey to gauge their environmental commitment, business and operational practices, and CO2 emissions," said Wiley.
This dedication to promoting a sustainable economy brings the dialogue back to the importance of locally grown and manufactured products. In addition to supporting the myriad local farms and vendors, the Dining Service has made a commitment to use produce from the Bowdoin Organic Garden project.
Cardone estimates that this partnership yields approximately 7,000 to 8,000 pounds of produce per year.
"It's just wonderful to have the ability to walk out your back door and have those items right there," he said. "Our motto is, 'If you grow it, we'll buy it.'"
The Dining Service will host a local food themed-dinner at Moulton Union next Tuesday, February 10th. Another themed dinner is planned for Earth Day in April.