Metz Culinary, Maryville College’s new food service provider, and Metz’ General Manager, James Dulin, are committed to providing MC with as much fresh, locally grown food as possible.
Dulin, who worked for Aramark for 12 years prior to working for Metz, explained how Aramark differs from Metz in their ability to make deals with local growers.
“Aramark is a gigantic company. It is a behemoth… So it’s really hard for a company like that to go local. All of their purchasing power is in them being a behemoth,” Dulin said.
He compared Aramark to Sam’s Club, the large wholesale store. At Sam’s Club, the product may be good, but it is not typically local product. Metz’ smaller size allows it to form partnerships with local growers easier than a larger company like Aramark.
When Dulin begins to consider forming a partnership with a local provider, he said he considers several questions. First, “do they have the proper coverage? Are they properly licensed?” It is important that local growers have enough insurance to cover the liabilities if something goes wrong.
Dulin explained he also has to consider distribution and affordability. When Dulin is looking at local growers, he has to determine if he is able to get the amount needed as well as determine if the price is affordable. Dulin has the challenge of bringing in locally grown foods without “passing along any major costs” to students.
The price per unit of product from local growers differs from that of larger produce providers. For example, Eco-Rich Farms, one of the farms Dulin is currently working on a deal with, sells their lettuce by the head which is a more expensive method than other produce providers that sell their lettuce by the pound.
Eco-Rich Farms, which is located in Greenback, TN, will provide the college with fresh tilapia, herbs, and different types of lettuces such as, arugula, romaine, and butter lettuce. Dulin explained that Eco-Rich Farms is a hydroponic farm which means “grown in water.” This method makes Eco-Rich Farms “beyond organic.”
Dulin also looks for “a willingness to partner.” Although locally grown food can be pricier, deals can be made if the farmer wants to make the partnership work. Eco-Rich farms wants to form a partnership with Metz so they are “willing to make special considerations” Dulin said.
Special Growers, a non-profit in Maryville, may soon be featured in Pearsons as well. Special Growers hires young disabled people, usually ages 22 to 25, to grow herbs in the gardens and greenhouses to sell to local restaurants, such as the Ruby Tuesday Lodge and Blackberry Farm.
Kent Davis, Executive Director of Special Growers, explained that the herbs provide restaurants with “high quality freshness.” The herbs are often delivered to the restaurants “within an hour of coming out of the garden,” Davis said.
Dulin has been working to bring in more produce from the community garden on campus. Peppers from the garden have already been featured in Pearsons this year. As the orchard on campus begins to produce more fruit, Dulin plans to highlight those items in the dishes in Pearsons as well.
Dulin plans to “spotlight” locally grown items in Pearsons once a month in a “Farmer’s Market Day.” The locally grown items will be featured throughout Pearsons at the salad bar or in the main dishes with a sign that indicates what local farm the food came from. Dulin also said he hopes to potentially bring in local proteins to Pearsons, such as bratwurst or sausage from local farms as well.
Again, cost is an aspect that has to be considered, so by occasionally spotlighting these local products Metz is able to keep the cost down for students while still providing locally grown food.