One of the worst snowstorms to hit Vassar in years was raging outside recently, but inside two state-of-the-art greenhouses at Vassar Farm, rows of lettuce, kale and other crops were thriving. And before long, the produce grown in the 9,400-square-foot “hoop houses” will become a significant component of Vassar’s comprehensive new dining plan.
Food grown by the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, an agricultural cooperative launched in 1999, has long been a part of the menu at the All Campus Dining Center (now renamed Gordon Commons) and at the Retreat. But the Vassar-funded hoop houses will greatly enhance the amount of fresh vegetables available to the college’s new dining service vendor, Bon Appetit Management Company, when the company commences operations in June.
Completed last fall, the hoop houses are equipped with wi-fi and electronics that enable farm managers to control their heating and ventilation systems remotely via cell phones or laptop computers. Poughkeepsie Farm Project Executive Director Lee Anne Albritton says the farm will be able to produce more than 6,000 pounds of additional food now that it has a 12-month growing season.
Bon Appetit Executive Chef Carmen Allen says she’s looking forward to forging a long relationship with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. “We toured the farm recently, and it’s exciting to have access to all that produce right here on campus,” Allen says. “We’ll develop menus based on what the students want to eat and what is available.” Bon Appetit will also purchase fresh food from other farms in the area, she says. Under the Farm to Fork program, Bon Appetit buys from more than 1,400 small, owner-operated farms and ranches within 150 miles of its kitchens across the country.
Bon Appetit was chosen to run the campus dining program because of its proven commitment to enabling students to make healthy choices, says Dean of the College Christopher Roellke. “The vision and culture Bon Appétit shared with the college resonated greatly with students and staff who attended their presentation last fall,” Roellke says. “Their leadership in sustainability and their focus on flexible menus, an industry-leading Farm to Fork program and their strong track record of meeting the dietary needs of a wide variety of students make them an excellent fit for our campus.” Vegan, kosher and halal meals will be available daily, the dean says.
Vassar provided about $250,000 in funding for the hoop houses to help ensure the availability of fresh food for the campus dining program and to enhance students’ field work at the farm. “We’re excited to be working with Bon Appetit because the company is widely known for its work in food justice, for doing things the right way,” Albritton says. “And since we’re now growing food all year long, a lot more Vassar interns will be working here. When our vegetables are served at Vassar’s dining halls, they’ll be able to say, ‘I helped grow this.’”