Located down Spring Street, past Patterson’s, secretly tucked behind Kroger is a building that rarely receives the recognition it deserves. Despite being only a few short blocks from Miami University’s main campus, few students would be able to describe where it is or even be mindful of its existence.
Although it is no real secret, The Demske Culinary Support Center plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of the university. Over the past decade, however, the center has inherited new responsibilities as Miami attempts to become more sustainable and self-sufficient. No longer does this center just work around the clock preparing food for thousands of students but it has also become one of the many facilitators that help guide Miami to a greener future.
While several students have become aware of this initiative, many feel that they have yet to see sustainable improvements to the dining halls or markets.
“I don’t know what sustainability is, well I do, just not when it comes to food,” said Jared Masarek, a freshman at Miami.
So how exactly are they making Miami greener?
The Culinary Support Center has been working hard to incorporate as many sustainable strategies as they can. While there is no defined formula or step-by-step guide to becoming sustainable, Jon Brubacher, Manager of Food Purchasing, and others have determined which strategies would be more beneficial to the students and the community.
When it comes to food, Brubacher claimed that they try to focus on “buying as much locally grown product as possible.” If locally grown is not available, then they try to buy from as many Ohio based companies as they can. In fact, a little over three million dollars of their 10 million dollar budget currently goes to Ohio based companies. Unfortunately, given the region of the country that Miami is located in, it is difficult to maintain a high level of local products.
“The challenges with food is that there will always be stuff we can’t have given that we are located in a part of the country that cannot grow during the winter months,” commented Brubacher. “It’s difficult when compared to other schools around the country that have access to growth year round.”
Even though some of the food is not collected from Ohio, the recent demand for sustainable foods at the national level has sparked changes in our other distributers Brubacher went on to say. US Food Services, the provider of approximately one third of the total food purchased by Miami, has recently added a flag to their order form allowing the Culinary Support Center to see what foods are coming from within 100 miles of the school. Often there are a few purchases made within Ohio that they would otherwise never have known about.
One hundred percent compostable disposables has been another big initiative by the Culinary Support Center. Currently at about 50 percent, they hope that all disposables used on campus will be made from material that is compostable. As of right now all of the plates, platters, and containers are all compostable. They hope to find a solution for the cold-cups and coffee cups in the near future.
The push for 100 percent compostable disposables was inspired by their recent efforts to reduce the amount of waste coming out of the dining halls. They have employed a variety of different strategies starting with the core function of the Culinary Support Center itself.
The center is designed to centrally produce foods like the soups and sauces served on campus. Producing everything in one spot and then sending over to the university to be sold at the unit level has dramatically reduced wasted and increased efficiency explained Brubacher.
In recent years new technology has provided a door to waste reduction. The introduction of the “e-Correct” food dehydrator has drastically reduced the amount of trash that leaves the dining halls every day. The dehydrator removes as much of the moisture from the leftover food on people’s trays. The remaining deposits can then be used as a soil enhancer.
When it comes to the dining halls themselves it has been hard to make any significant changes because their structures are inherently inefficient. Dining halls like Ovations and Encore Emporium in Scott and the dining hall in Hamilton will be decommissioned as soon as Maple Street opens its doors.
Students like Emily Sullivan think that Miami could benefit by making the students more aware of what the school is doing to be sustainable.
“I don’t know what is sustainable and what’s not. It’s probably hurting Miami that students aren’t aware.”
While she also thinks that there are more important issues on Miami’s campus such as the school’s debt or out of date student ethics guidelines she still appreciates what has been accomplished by the Demske Culinary Support Center.
Jon Brubacher also agrees that he is impressed with the changes over the past year.
“I think we have made dramatic improvements, I’ve been in this position for 10 years now and up until five years ago no one from the student point of view would get involved,” he concluded. “From here on out green is at the front of our minds.”
By: Robert Mattis