Eat Local: Raising Awareness of Local Food Sourcing in UConn Dining Halls

Matt Chen ’22 (CAHNR, CLAS) works with UConn Dining Services to educate students about buying local food through UConn.

Chen, a double major in Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources and Communications, began working with ARE Professor Cristina Connolly and her senior colleague from CAHNR Hannah Colonies-Kelley on a project to increase the amount of UConn food purchased from local farmers.

“It seemed like an amazing opportunity to impact local food sourcing in food service,” Chen says.

However, when Chen and Kelley began researching the issue, he quickly discovered that UConn Dining Services was already purchasing 36% of its food locally. Other large public universities such as UMass Amherst buy only 20% of their food locally, on average.

“I think, especially as such a large university, the example that UConn can set for sustainability is important,” Chen said.

This commitment to sourcing local produce not only impacts local farmers; it can provide more nutritious and diverse food options than items transported hundreds or thousands of miles.

With a grant from the Office of Sustainability’s Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants Program, Chen and Kelley ’22 continue their work to highlight UConn’s success in local food sourcing.

Chen interviews farmers and distributors to learn more about their relationship with UConn and the challenges they might face when sourcing from UConn. The pair are also designing a survey for the UConn undergraduate student body to gauge their awareness of UConn’s commitment to locally sourced foods. The survey will ask students questions about their school or college and their experience of food insecurity.

“It’s a major factor in how students perceive local food or sustainability,” Chen says.

The survey results will help Chen, Kelley and UConn Dining Services develop marketing strategies to educate students about their local food purchases.

Chen says UConn’s success in local sourcing is likely a factor in the strong relationship the university has had with area farmers.

“I think UConn has done a really good job of connecting with food suppliers,” Chen says. “I think food services, overall, does a great job of sourcing local food that students aren’t aware of.”

Chen says the skills he learned while working on this project will serve him well after graduation. He is considering graduate school or working for an organization like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

“I always look at how systems can be changed,” Chen says. “I think doing research has given me knowledge and skills to put into any field.”

To follow UConn CAHNR on social networks