From Farm to Dining Hall

It’s 6 p.m. on a sunny day near the end of the spring semester. Just as High Lawn Farm Manager Roberto Laurens is ending his shift, Yvette Belleau (above), a prep and service attendant at Williams’ Paresky Center, is beginning hers.

Belleau is getting ready to make gelato for the Lee Snack Bar— and the main ingredients, milk and cream, come from High Lawn, just 30 miles from campus.

Williams’ relationship with the farm is just one example of its commitment to local sourcing. Today some 13.75 percent of the dining services food budget is devoted to food grown within 100 miles of campus, says Director Robert Volpi.

To name just a few suppliers: Black River Produce in North Springfield, Vt., provides grass-fed beef for chopped meat; Nitty Gritty Grain Co. in Charlotte, Vt., supplies flour for the ’82 Grill’s pizza dough; Peace Valley Farm in Williamstown is the source for many fruits and vegetables; and Gammelgarden Creamery in Pownal, Vt., makes a campus favorite—Skyr yogurt.

Meanwhile, composted food waste goes back to local farms every two to three months.

Buying local can be more expensive than working with a conglomerate food supplier, Volpi says. But the benefits go beyond getting the best-quality produce. It’s about supporting sustainable growing and transportation practices as well as the local economy, in which agriculture has always been prominently represented.

“We want to preserve the environment—we live in a beautiful area,” Volpi says. “Being a partner makes that commitment to keep- ing what we have in place.”

High Lawn, for instance, has produced hormone-free milk from Jersey cows for more than 100 years—but Williams became one of its first major clients in 2002 and was the first college to buy all its milk from the farm. Now, High Lawn supplies schools like MIT and Wellesley College as well as New England supermarkets and coffee shops. The farm opened a new, larger processing facility this year to keep up with demand.

Working with Williams “opened our doors to the world,” says Laurens. “For years, the only school we had was Williams College. … It was essential—a first push to get out and try to compete.”

The college’s Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives has been an important link, connecting dining services with local farms and suppliers. “The direct relationship is really valuable,” says Brent Wasser, who, until May, served as the center’s sustainable food and agriculture program manager. “I think it’s important to consider how to foster that kind of resiliency … so there’s not complete dependence on food from far away.”

And, of course, fresher food tastes better—the less time spent on a truck, the better the taste. “If you’re going to the Lee Snack Bar and buying a burger,” says Volpi, “It’s going to be a good burger.”

—Francesca Shanks