Luther College food service program thrives on local suppliers

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 7:03 AM CDT
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DECORAH, Iowa (KTTC) – Luther College in Decorah, Iowa has prioritized working with local farms amid shortages caused by supply chain issues.

Like many places, the Luther College food service program has had to change the way it operates due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought these supply chain and staffing issues.

“We had supply chain issues, staffing shortages, even at this point, we never know what’s going to be on the truck when it shows up,” Food Service General Manger Wayne Tudor said.

The issues have prompted the college to tap into more local food sources. Luther College has increased local food purchases by 19% in the 2021-22 academic year. Tudor said the college is the biggest customer of many small, local companies.

Nearly 60% of its dairy comes from local farms like Andrew Erickson Dairy in Des Moines, Country View Dairy in Hawkeye and WW Homestead Dairy in Waukon.

Its turkey is from Ferndale Turkey Farm in Cannon Falls and most of its vegetables come from Sno-Pac Foods in Caledonia. More than 98% of the coffee on campus is from Decorah’s Impact Coffee, which is locally roasted and certified fair trade.

“We’re sitting at about $245,000 worth of local food that we’ve purchased from the beginning of the school year,” Tudor said. “So that’s directly right back into the community.”

Tudor said he was raised on a family farm, and supporting local is very important to him.

“This is important to me, and everyone here,” he said. “The product is fantastic. We’ve got our turkey, we’ve got our potatoes, a lot of things. So it’s been really, really good. We also don’t see the price fluctuations like we do on the open market.”

He added that many of the food they serve is made from scratch, and they have also increased their vegetarian and vegan options.

Logan Olson is a Luther College senior, as well as a Sodexo Sustainability Intern. Sodexo Food Management contracts with the college. Olson helps educate students about the importance of resourcing food from sustainable sources and also reducing waste.

“Something I really love about local foods is that the folks are really able, with the scale of their operations, to take care of their livestock and take care of their land in a much more responsible way,” Olson said. “There was a study in Iowa that said local food here travels 30 times less distance than other foods. People don’t realize how far their food actually travels.”

Olson said he’s been working on finding out how to bring reusable containers to the cafeteria. He recently led an Earth Day event on campus.

The college has student gardens that have also supplied food for everyone, but due to on-and-off distance learning over the past two years, they haven’t been able to get them back up and running, but Tudor said he hopes it will happen again soon.

He said the college is also looking for more local businesses that want to partner with it.

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