As St. Lawrence University’s Sustainability Coordinator as well as former president of the North Country Grown Cooperative, I have a perspective that might be helpful in the discussions about the University’s purchasing of local products.
Four weeks ago, St. Lawrence extended an apology to Ms. Tengler citing the informal agreement with NCGC as the source of the misunderstanding we now face. St. Lawrence has also affirmed its desire and its expectation to purchase locally grown produce and food products. Given the demands of scale, with 2,500 students who eat 21 meals a week on average, as well as with faculty, staff and guests regularly in our dining halls and cafes for lunch, dinner, and catered events, the University has always considered local to be NY State or the northeast region. Our local purchasing includes St. Lawrence and Franklin county farms.
As Ryan Deuel was quoted saying by The Watertown Daily Times, “the University requires all its departments to manage costs so the funds paid by our students’ families can be used in the most responsible way.” Competitive pricing is one fundamental element to a successful business, whether on the supply side or the purchasing side. Competitive pricing plays a significant role in balancing budget realties with educational and community benefits. In discussions with the University last spring about the pricing for fall purchases, both parties could have defined “competitive” more clearly. When produce from NCGC was priced, as much as 20% higher than other local vendors, our University did agree to pay higher prices, on some products, recognizing loyalty to our neighbors. However, along with the three other colleges in Canton and Potsdam, we had to reduce volume to accommodate price, as well as to reflect different dining patterns on campus.
St. Lawrence’s agreement with NCGC was informal and lacked the clarity that could have helped us avoid the misunderstanding we now face. As we continue to develop agreements to purchase from local growers, we will be very clear about our expectations so everyone can plan accurately.
The University relationship with local food and producers is not exclusively about eating. We are fortunate that our local producers are generous with their time and resources, participating in educational, research and co-curricular aspects of our work. Over the years these experiences have inspired students and lead to the development of other sustainable agriculture related educational opportunities. This summer, St. Lawrence committed to purchasing vegetables from the Seed to Table Student Garden. The goal of this program is to allow students to have a paid independent small-scale agricultural experience in the summer with the money from Dining Services funding the student stipend for the following summer. I appreciate the University staff support of this and other agriculturally focused student-driven sustainability projects.
I hope my perspective helps us move forward toward a more sustainable future.
Coordinator of Sustainability Projects
Assistant Director of the Sustainability Semester
St. Lawrence University