AManitoba project is looking for ways to get more locally grown foods served in institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals and other places where cafeterias potentially feed thousands of people on a daily basis.
Over the past year, the Manitoba Farm to Cafeteria project has been exploring how to seize the market opportunities these larger food buyers represent, said a spokesperson on the project’s steering committee.
Thousands of people eat at these places every day and they represent a huge potential market for local food suppliers – if it could be tapped, said Paul Chorney, community liaison with Food Matters Manitoba.
LEVEL OF INTEREST
The committee is determining the level of interest among farmers, and what sorts of numbers of farmers have the capacity to supply these types of buyers, Chorney said.
“We’d like to try and get a database of farmers who are interested in selling to institu- tional markets,” Chorney said. “We’ve had some preliminary meetings. We’re also looking at what role the provincial government might play in this.”
There will be a lot of issues to address. Making a switch to local sourcing can be complicated, given that large institutions have existing contracts with major food service suppliers, he added.
The University of Winnipeg is one institution already committed to sourcing local.
Diversity Food Services began operations in 2009 as a joint venture between the university and SEED Winnipeg, a nonprofit agency that helps start small businesses.
The new company, headed up by executive chef Ben Kramer, replaced the existing food-service contractor.
The university wanted to boost the quality and choice available on campus, so started fresh with a new entity, Kramer said.
“Diversity Food was created to meet that need,” he said, adding that Diversity Food Services came in with a commitment to using local and seasonally grown produce, and to preparing more food from scratch right on site.
At any one time the company is feeding about 10,000 people on a daily basis, including staff and students on the campus. “We do an enormous amount of volume.”
Its local farmer suppliers usually number around 30 through the winter months, a number that rises to around 40 to 45 in the warmer months, when more locally grown foods are available.
Sourcing local adds a significant layer of complexity to food-service delivery, Kramer said, because it means dealing with these multiple sources. A Winnipeg distributor, Fresh Option Organic Delivery, helps to ease some of those logistics for them, he said.
Kramer serves on the Manitoba Farm to Cafeteria project’s steering committee.
He believes it’s only a matter of time before more institutions similarly start assessing their food services, as consumer demand increases for fresher foods and greater variety than what cafeterias typically offer.
“Part of the problem is we’ve just grown accustomed to having bad food at an institution,” he said. “And a big part of that is the ingredients and what they do with those ingredients.”
Jeff Fidyk, a steering committee member representing Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives, agrees there are many issues to address. But he believes it is an initiative worth pursuing if it helps open up markets for more local food suppliers.
“If we can put the infrastructure in place to make it easier, and make buying local on par with what the big houses can offer that’s going to be a huge plus for buying local,” he said.
– PAUL CHORNEY, COMMUNITY LIAISON WITH FOOD MATTERS MANITOBA