When Hampshire College students return to campus this fall, they will be welcomed back to a totally changed approach to food on campus.
Hampshire aims at nothing less than redefining what the college dining experience can be.
"We are questioning everything that is currently done and every practice that has become routine," said President Jonathan Lash, who encouraged the College community to think big in approaching the Healthy Food Transition, as it's known on campus. The "transition" involves changing how food on campus is produced, prepared, served, and consumed.
That means making "a strong commitment to offer the highest-quality, sustainably produced food of any North American campus," asserts Howard Wein, a Hampshire graduate working in an advisory capacity on the transition. He owns the hospitality advisory and venture firm Howard Wein Hospitality.
Hampshire's history and resources make possible such a bold assertion. The founding mission included experimenting with innovative teaching and learning models that other educational institutions might adopt. A pioneer in integrating agriculture into a liberal arts program, the Hampshire College Farm Center began in the 1970s as a learning laboratory created by professors.
Hampshire's new food service provider, Bon Appétit Management Co., will build menus around products harvested on the farm. The 800-acre campus offers ample room for growth beyond the current 15 acres of vegetables that support a thriving Community Supported Agriculture program.
But as central as great taste and healthful options are to Hampshire's Healthy Food Transition, it is also about far more:
In addition to serving the campus community, food will be used to teach students, communicate values, and experiment with new models of production and delivery that may help solve global resource challenges.
President Lash, an environmentalist concerned with what the changing climate is doing and will do to the global capacity to produce food, asks, "How will we feed 9 billion people in a warming world?"
Lash thinks Hampshire can make a significant contribution toward answering that question by educating independent thinkers and learners—the kind of future leaders who can change the way we interact with food on a daily basis. He is challenging the campus community to imagine what might be accomplished and modeled that can help lead the larger cultural change he views as necessary to address climate change.
Lash spelled out his vision for Hampshire College as a transformative institution during his inauguration speech last year. Al Gore delivered the keynote speech at that event. Hampshire graduate and cofounder of the world's leading organic yogurt-maker, Stonyfield Farm's Gary Hirshberg stepped forward with a sizable gift to support that vision as it pertains to food.
Now, from seed to table, Hampshire wants to do food differently. So ardent is the desire on campus to change everything in Hampshire's relationship to food that the search for a perfect match in a food service company sounded at times a bit like a personal ad: "We need a partner that we can really talk to." After scrutinizing potentials as to shared values, serious commitment, and sustainable practices, the College found the right partner both to meet its needs and to understand and use Hampshire as an innovation lab. Bon Appétit Management has long been a recognized leader in providing fresh, cooked-from-scratch, and responsibly sourced food to college students. Many regard Bon Appétit as the most forward-thinking, socially and environmentally responsible company in the food service industry.
"We're very excited to partner with Hampshire College to create innovative new food experiences that will inspire young people to optimize their health—through mind, body, and spirit," said Fedele Bauccio, cofounder and CEO. Bauccio recently visited campus to tour the farm and dining spaces as well as to meet with Lash and the committee that led the community-wide search process: Wein, Mark Spiro, the vice president for administration and finance, and sustainability initiatives director Beth Hooker.
Bon Appétit formally began its partnership with Hampshire on June 1. The College and company are already collaborating on plans for purchasing products from the Farm Center and creating exciting, new dining spaces on campus.
Among the many actions and goals being implemented and discussed are: ways to move curriculum outward into operations, the environmentally and socially responsible guidance of Hampshire's extensive new sustainable food purchasing guide, ways to strengthen connections with local farmers and involve the wider agricultural community beyond campus, enhanced flexibility (in hours and in creative eat-in and take-out options plus fresh ingredients that can be purchased and picked up by those students who do their own cooking) and, of course, culinary innovation.