Farmers criticize UK for ‘local food’ definition

By Marjorie Kirk

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Students can go to their dining halls and enjoy a number of local products which — according to UK’s definition — includes Coca-Cola.

Clauses in the contract with UK’s new dining service provider, Aramark, have become a topic of debate among local food advocates and producers because of the university’s definition of local food.

UK began a 15-year, $250 million contract with Aramark in 2014.

While the company is obligated to use a percentage of local food and Kentucky Proud products, UK considers companies that distribute or process food and beverages in Kentucky to be “local.”

In addition to using companies that are based outside of Kentucky, local food advocates like the Local Food Association criticize the Kentucky Proud clause of the contract.

“Kentucky Proud doesn’t necessarily measure farm impact, because you can buy from a Kentucky Proud company products that have never seen Kentucky farms,” said John-Mark Hack, LFA’s executive director. 

Aramark Resident District Manager Jonathan Parker said the company has met, if not exceeded, local food standards held by UK for years. The company plans to increase the incorporation of local food and Kentucky Proud products each year.

“If you take out the Coca-Cola and (Home City Ice) you do see an increase in the local commitment we’ve made in our partnership,” Parker said.

Some of Aramark’s local purchases include produce and cheese from Kentucky farms including Jones Brothers Farms, Evans Orchard, Gordon Farms and Calumet Farm. The company recently just began a partnership with UK’s South Farm.

Parker said Aramark’s relationship with The Food Connection, the business community partnership with the College of Agriculture, will help incorporate more local farmers and producers into their supply chain.

Todd Clark of Clark Family Farm said it is frustrating for local farmers that Aramark does not take advantage of them as a resource. He said local farmers have the potential to supply the university with abundant and possibly superior products, even if the products may be slightly more expensive.

“UK is a large enough entity where that is a huge opportunity to further healthier eating and, in some cases, local food can help with that,” Clark said. “It’s also frustrating to have various colleges and departments within UK working on educating through classes and working with farmers like myself to help us sell locally, and yet at the end of the day … (the university is) not really buying locally.”

Some students in the agriculture department are hopeful for more local produce on campus.

“It might not have been what people had in mind when they were considering local,” sustainable agriculture senior Michael Hurak said. “I (think) they’re taking advantage of the local (producers) in the contract they signed. I would like to see what they do in another year when it is more developed, and they get a reception from students and faculty.”