12 Universities Leading the Charge in Serving Locally-Sourced Food
Many cafeterias around the U.S. are working to provide students with healthy, sustainable meal options. To do this, colleges and universities are changing the way that they purchase and prepare food in their cafeterias and many of them are beginning to source food locally.
Universities can play a big role in their local and state economies: they provide jobs and attract new businesses to the community. Now, many of these institutions are taking their role a step further and investing in local agriculture by serving locally sourced food in their cafeterias.
Here are 12 universities leading the way in sustainability.
1. American University in Washington, DC, purchases roughly 36 percent of the food served in its dining halls within 250 miles of its campus. The university has also started a community garden on campus and hosts a drop-off location for local CSA initiatives. American University students conduced a survey that showed that by removing cafeteria trays, food waste and the number of dishes used per person declined significantly. In Fall 2009, the university eliminated trays in its Terrace Dining Room.
2. Boston University dining halls serve meal options that include organic, fair trade, free-range, vegetarian fed, hormone—and antibiotic-free and sustainably harvested food items to students. Their dining services department spends approximately 36 percent of its budget on food items sourced from 58 local farms and 81 local processors. Boston University also offers students discounts for using reusable mugs and composts the pre-consumer food waste produced for all meals.
3. Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, is committed to two primary reasons for sourcing local food for its dining services: to reduce carbon emissions from having food delivered long distances and to strengthen the local economy by buying from local farms and vendors. Bowdoin College currently sources an impressive 34 percent from local vendors and is dedicated to increasing that number every year.
4. Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, purchases approximately 22 percent of its total food from regional sources. The dining department purchases seasonal produce through its partnerships with the local farming community and serves beef that is raised locally without growth hormones and daily antibiotics. The university composts about 850 tons of food waste from its dining halls each year.
5. Duke University's campus in Durham, North Carolina, offers eateries with both organic produce and antibiotic—and hormone-free meat and dining services spends 25 percent of its food budget on locally sourced items. Duke is also committed to limiting its amount of food waste. Surplus food is donated to food banks and both pre—and post-consumer scraps are composted.
6. McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, currently spends 47 percent of its food budget on produce from its own on-campus farm and from growers within 300 miles of the campus. The university also offers sustainably harvested seafood products and fair trade coffee across campus. All animal products served are hormone and confinement free and vegetarian fed.
7. Middlebury College in Vermont partners with 50 year-long and seasonal local vendors, including its own organic farm. The college's dining services currently uses 32 percent of their annual food budget on locally sourced produce, meat and poultry, eggs, soymilk and dairy products.
8. Since 2001, Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio began purchasing locally sourced food. That year, 5 percent of its food was locally sourced. Currently, 27 percent of the food served on campus is locally sourced and Oberlin College has committed itself to increasing that amount to 40 percent by the year 2020. The college also supplies its dining halls with produce from its own 70-acre George Jones Memorial Farm about a mile from campus.
9. In 2013, 27 percent of the University of California, Berkley's food purchases were locally grown, organic, fair trade or humane. Additionally, 38 percent of its food purchases were produced by locally-owned businesses. In July 2014, the university launched its Global Food Initiative to address food security in a way that is both nutritious and sustainable.
10. The University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign spends 25 percent of its yearly food budget on locally grown or processed food items. Campus dining services also exclusively serve fair trade coffee and almost all seafood is sustainably harvested. The university is also very committed to reducing waste and has enacted efforts to recycle cooking oil for biodiesel production and currently a quarter of the meals served on-campus are trayless.
11. The University of Wisconsin—Madison committed to local purchasing in the late 1990s. The university's dining halls have partnered with approximately 40 local growers and food distributors to serve meals to the 7,000 undergraduates living in its residential housing.
12. The dining services of Yale University located in New Haven, Connecticut, strive to provide students with food that is grown and produced locally and sustainably. Up to 37 percent of the food served in the dining halls meets one or more of the university's sustainability requirements. Yale University also offers sustainable menu options for its catered events and works hard to eliminate the amount of waste produced in its dining facilities.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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