Connecting Students and Farmers—Still Trying

SLU students educating students
SLU students promoting real food.

Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University

Part Two

Our last installment, in spring 2013, left us on a high note as we introduced our student group Reconnect, the environmental sociology class project and the very successful farmers market.  There was a real buzz we all felt at the market on Food Day.  We were excited the diversity of produce grown just a few miles from campus.  It should be possible to have locally grown real food available in our campus cafeteria, right?  The farmers were game.  So, that brings us to…

Corporate Bullies.

Our students challenged the University administration and local Aramark dining managers to source more food directly.  They started by bringing the Aramark manager and the leaders of the local farmers’ cooperative together to develop a plan in which the farmers could regularly deliver sustainable, seasonal produce for the campus cafeteria’s salad bar.  The farmers were excited about the possibilities—not only connecting more with students but also opening up a new market for their produce.  This was a small step, but one both the students and the farmers were convinced could be successful, with potential for growth.

Then, inexplicably, Aramark ceased contact with Reconnect. The students continued to send emails to the dining manager and other personnel, but, still, no response. At the same time this was happening, Aramark’s corporate headquarters issued a national directive forbidding communication with university students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge.

After months of letters and emails from Reconnect requesting meetings, the local Aramark representatives finally reached out to the students right before the next campus farmers market.  The campus dining manager acknowledged the students’ efforts and wanted to be involved but still was not ready to discuss “real food.”

SLU spring campus farmers market
Spring campus farmers market.

Aramark did indeed get involved.   The morning of the farmers market, as the farmers were unloading produce and setting up, Aramark set up their own table.   Right next to the Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative farmers, the dining manager and campus chef handed out brochures highlighting the “local” food they serve and their corporate policy on sustainable practices. They also handed out free fruit and vegetables.  The farmers and students of Reconnect felt this directly undermined their effort and goals.

Instead of cooperating with students, the corporate dining service at our university chose to dismiss a student-led initiative that would not have cost them, and in fact might have enhanced their image of ecological responsibility.  In the meantime, the salad bar in the cafeteria continues to feature tomatoes shipped from Mexico, onions from Washington and iceberg lettuce from California.

Some good has come out of this process.  Students are interested in learning about local farms and continue to support the markets on campus.  More farmers are participating, and local chefs have gotten in on the action, preparing dishes on the spot with the available produce.   We also have a new Farmers Market Manager Internship program.  While there have yet to be negotiations with Aramark, students are looking for other ways to achieve the goals of food justice…

To Be Continued…


  1. Thanks for sharing the experience. Two suggestions, moving forward:

    1. “Real food challenge” groups on other campuses likely have suggestions to share on how they overcame similar corporate resistance.
    2. Send the story to Marion Nestle’s blog ( or one of the major media food bloggers (Mark Bittman at NYT), who will get word out.

  2. At the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, a group of students taking The Politics of Food, and their professor Mary Summers, were able, over several years, I believe, to encourage a change in dining here. The result was that Bon Appetit Management Company is now the provider, NOT ARAMARK. And this is Philly! Aramark-land. So… that is another consideration, if you cannot work with Aramark [and I believe that was the situation here], then find someone who you can work with. More recently, some of our students from same course were successful in negotiating with Penn Dining and Bon Appetit a food recovery plan, to be implemented in the fall. Here is recent Penn News story: & see also the pretty great info about Bon Appetit… for a corporation producing tons of student food, they are trying really hard to be sustainable:
    Big food waste conference at Penn later this year, at which I believe one of the speakers will be the head of Bon Appetit Mgmt… I can put you in touch with the food waste/recovery students… or Mary Summers, who spearheaded the effort to get Bon Appetit at Penn

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