Sustainable Solutions in the Augustana Cafeteria

Sustainable Solutions in the Augustana Cafeteria

By Christopher Thrall

From field to fork at Augustana Campus

LilasLilas Bielopotocky has worked at Augustana Campus in food services for 27 years. Starting out as a cook, she worked her way up to the top of the cafeteria as the supervisor where she is in charge of planning menus, hiring, supervising staff and ordering food. She integrates sustainability into food services at Augustana with initiatives such as “Field to Fork” meals and a trayless cafeteria.

How did you start integrating sustainability into your workplace?

In 2008 Roger Epp, the Dean of Augustana Campus, came to me and asked if the cafeteria could do a “Field to Fork” meal; “Field to Fork” was Augustana’s theme for that year. I said yes, and that I would do everything I could possibly do. This meant buying all local and making sure the staff was okay with this plan. The Dean came down to the cafeteria one day with a book on the “Field to Fork” concept for everyone and we talked about how we could do it.

I started phoning people to see what they had in their gardens, or to find enough beef for this local supper. Once we were able to pull this off, we started doing these meals whenever we could afford to do them.

How did you pull it off?

I’m from the country, so I know the farming community. For example, when we did the first “Field to Fork” dinner, we actually went out to a field near Ohaton, AB. They said “take all the beets you want”, so we picked them straight from the field.

We actually ended up inviting all the farmers who supplied the food for that first meal. The students who attended gave all of us and the farmers a standing ovation, which was awesome.

At the beginning it took a fair bit of planning to track down local suppliers, but now it’s just part of the routine. Now we only serve locally-raised red meat every day in the cafeteria. I also try to make sure our other suppliers are as local as possible, such as our mushrooms and vegetables. Even the salespeople who come to the door, I work them to see where their products come from as well as the best price.

What are some other sustainable initiatives you started?

We got rid of trays in our cafeteria. Washing the trays cost us so much money for water, and wasted water. Taking away 350-400 trays for every meal meant less time going through the dishwasher and less water wasted; it also meant less food on their plates. It’s an “all you care to eat” program, but this way they still have their plates so if they want more, they can come back instead of piling it all on their tray and minimizing the food waste.

We also have some other environmentally-friendly features:

  • A cardboard and plastics compactor
  • No disposable dishware in the cafeteria—it’s all glass or metal
  • All condiments are in bulk instead of portioned out

Coming up, we’re hoping to get our compost sent back to the North Campus with the daily mail courier. I’ve already started training the chefs on using the clear compost pails to reduce food waste. If we can see what’s ending up in the compost pail, we can see what where the food waste is going and what the source might be. It also demonstrates that there is a need for composting at Augustana, but for now we’re using the food scraps to feed a colleague’s chickens and pigs.

Why is it important to make sustainable food choices?

I think it’s very important for the money spent to stay in our communities and invest in our local economy. It’s also good for health and wellness. When you know where your food comes from, you know it’s better for you and the environment.

Some other initiatives cut down on power, water and waste. These actions start out small and it all adds up.

From the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability