Thursday, September 15, 2011

Green Tastes Good

If you’ve ever wondered who makes sure there is a bountiful breakfast buffet and hot coffee every morning on campus, you should meet Lynne Franciose, our dining services manager and green advocate extraordinaire.

Her day begins around 4 a.m. with checking email, reviewing menus, and taking time to make sure the cafeteria and campus catering services run smoothly. By 6 a.m., she is on campus, doing the morning set-up routine of filling ice buckets, preparing coffee, and baking breakfast goodies.

I recently sat down with Lynne to talk about the various ways the Green Street Café is environmentally responsible. From the coffee we drink to the vegetables in the soup, Lynne has made some progressive choices that place the Green Street Café at the forefront of environmentally responsible food service.

For the past two years, The Green Society student group on campus and their organic kitchen garden project has collaborated with the Green Street Café. This partnership not only collected food waste for compost, but it also produced vegetables, herbs, and flowers for use in the Café’s menus. The Green Society collects food waste in compost buckets and uses it to fertilize the club’s garden. This keeps all those food scraps out of the college’s waste stream and ultimately a landfill. Conversely, when the kitchen garden comes to harvest, the Café reaps the benefits. By working together to choose what is grown in some plots, the Café has not only created demand for the fresh local produce, but also saved the college money by choosing to grow pricey items such as herbs and edible flowers right here on campus!

The coffee station in the Café is a busy place any time of day. It’s good to know that even with this every day staple item, Lynne and the Green Street Café have made a conscious choice to use environmentally friendly options. By choosing Green Mountain Coffee as our vendor, we are supporting fair trade and organic coffee. Plus, all the “disposable” items such as cups and lids are made from biodegradable materials, meaning it can all be kept out of landfills!

Beverages make up approximately 15 percent of what is consumed through the Café, so Lynne partnered with Coca-Cola, our soft drink vendor, in an ongoing initiative they are developing to use plant-based and biodegradable bottles for their products. In addition, bottles that are not currently made from the new plant-based materials are still staying out of the landfill. Through a partnership with Gardner High School, students collect and recycle the traditional plastic bottles. Subsequently, they learn the importance of recycling and they also get to keep the money they earn from the redemption value.

One of the most visible and significant initiatives Lynne has implemented is the use of local farm produce. While it could have been a time consuming and expensive proposition to use organic vendors and farms across the Commonwealth, Lynne worked smarter, not harder.

Attending a Farm to School conference last year, Lynne realized that a particular food service wholesaler was already utilizing local farms and organic produce for their product line. By using this vendor, Lynne is able to serve fresh, local produce without the added work of dealing with numerous farms individually.

In addition to the on-campus efforts Lynne coordinates, the Green Street Café also has a larger green footprint that reaches across the globe. The Café has chosen Heifer International as its primary charity and work to collect donations and build awareness among students for the needs of hungry people around the world. Established in Rutland, Mass., Heifer International works with communities to end hunger through innovative programming. 

These “living loan” programs provide families with livestock and education on how to raise and profit from the livestock. The families eat better and can generate income in sustainable ways from eggs, milk, and meat.  An important part of the program is that those same families then give one of its animal's offspring to another family and increase the program’s impact in the community.

The Green Street Café will be starting a new collection for Heifer International in November. Heifer International volunteers will be on campus. Stop by, have a snack, and learn more about this great part of the Green Street Café’s commitment to sustainability.

While MWCC continues to work to incorporate green initiatives to many aspects of operations across the Gardner campus, it is good to know that even the food we serve in the cafeteria is making a positive impact on our community and environment, rather than a negative one.  It’s all the small decisions, when taken together as a whole strategy, which add up to a big change and move in the right direction. Stop by the Green Street Café sometime and know that your delicious meal is supporting local farmers, a high school student recycling program, a student-run organic kitchen garden, and fair trade products.