University of Texas, Austin: A Green Case Study

"The farm also uses organic and sustainable farming practices," Mangrum says, such as crop rotation to naturally fertilize crops and ward off pests, as well as drip-irrigation methods and certain planting techniques.

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In partnership with the UT Division of Housing and Food Service, the Micro Farm sends its produce through a thorough cleaning process at a stainless steel prepping station located on-site with separate produce and hand-washing sinks. Collapsible black boxes, sanitized in the university's commercial dishwashers, help transport the freshly washed produce from the farm to the kitchens.

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The campus has been able to raise the necessary funds to support the project by tacking a mere $5 to $10 onto each student's tuition fee as part of a "green fee," Rodriguez says. "Students then apply those funds to different sustainable projects."

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When it comes to the impact on equipment, Rodriguez says local food sourcing has not made much of a difference. The top-of-the-line refrigeration system handles the added deliveries, but with such perishable items, the food gets used within a few days.

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Meatless Dining

Some foodservice operators, including colleges and universities, have looked to cut down on the amount or portion sizes of meat they serve as part of a more high-level approach to reducing their carbon footprint and impact on the environment. Numerous published studies have reported that factory farming and commodity meat production in the United States result in an excessive drain on natural resources, including energy, oil and water. Trucking these products far distances also adds to that strain, Mangrum points out.

In light of this, UT offers vegetarian and vegan options at every meal and plans to launch a "Meatless Mondays" program in the spring semester, similar to many other operators around the country. Here, again, the initiative came about through student demand. "Our goal there is to not take meat entirely off the menu, but instead make it by request only," he says.

In addition to helping reduce carbon footprint, the vegetarian/vegan approach also caters to the increasing number of students with special diets. "Every single meal in every single dining facility is labeled appropriately," Mangrum says. "We have also created logos for gluten-free products and packaging. And, we created an app where students can go online and see all the nutritional information for that food or dish." The university also posts QR codes throughout the dining halls so students can use their smartphones to scan and call up the same nutritional and labeling information.

The Future

With more than 1,000 registered student groups on campus, many dedicated to sustainability and improving the campus footprint for the sake of the environment and generations of students to come, UT's future is in good hands, both Mangrum and Rodriguez say.

The fact that the Department of Housing and Food Service remains separate as an auxiliary unit allows them to raise and spend their own dollars separate from the university's funds in order to support these various initiatives. The department works most closely with the Campus Environmental Center (CEC), the largest group dedicated to campus sustainability initiatives. Mangrum's department also worked closely with the Engineers for a Sustainable World student group to kick off its waste management program, an initiative that continues to gain momentum across campus, including at the athletic fields and stadiums.

Next up, the department hopes to investigate alternative energy sourcing, although UT already has its own power plant off the state's grid. In fact, says Rodriguez, the program has won awards for its efficiency and ability to actually produce more energy than it takes in.

Water saving also remains a continuing effort, especially in light of recent droughts. And the Micro Farm will continue to grow, literally. "We're at the tipping point for many projects to come in the near future," Mangrum says.

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