Division of Housing and Food Service’s Homegrown Local promotes use of organic, local, sustainable food

Marisa Charpentier

Heaps of brisket, chicken-fried portobello mushrooms, cowboy beans, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese filled Kinsolving and J2 dining halls Thursday for Homegrown Local. 

The Division of Housing and Food Service hosted the event, during which dining halls showcased locally grown, organic and sustainable food. Guests listened to a live bluegrass band while eating a Texas-themed meal, most of which was grown within state borders.

Since 2009, DHFS has worked to increase the amount of local food served on campus. The University allocates $8 million to DFHS for food each year. DHFS sustainability coordinator Hunter Mangrum said DHFS has increased the amount of money spent on these foods from 9 percent in 2009 to 23 percent today.

“We still have major goals to increase [the percentage] as much as we can as long as it makes economic sense for us and for our customers,” Mangrum said. 

DHFS has made changes to afford more of these food options because purchasing these types of food costs more than buying commercial products. 

In an effort to save money, dining halls now offer plastic wrap for leftovers instead of the more expensive coverings previously offered. Reusable metal utensils have replaced disposable, more expensive ones.

“We’re always looking for ways that we can reasonably change things from the status quo to move things more towards that sustainable goal,” executive chef Robert Mayberry said. 

DHFS hosts special dinners, often complete with music and a unique name, such as “Homegrown Local,” about once per semester. Dining halls serve local, organic and sustainable food options throughout the year as they are available, but DHFS hosts meals like Homegrown Local to educate students about the benefits from eating these types of food.

“A big part of what we are trying to do is educational,” Mayberry said. “We’re here to supply food and housing, but part of our mission is to assist in the educational process.”

DHFS considers locally grown food to be food grown within 300 miles. Buying this food supports the local economy and reduces the environmental effects of shipping food across long distances. Sustainable and organic food are also beneficial for the environment. Sustainable food is grown in a way that does not damage the natural resources needed to grow the food, and organic food is grown without being sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

At Homegrown Local, pitchers of horchata, cartons of vanilla ice cream and pans of warm peach cobbler greeted students. While they weaved through the all-you-care-to-eat buffet lines, patrons could read the black square placecards that sat beside each meal option, explaining where in Texas the food item came from. Some of the options included mushrooms from Gonzales, corn meal from San Antonio, honey from Burleson and sausage from Austin.

“When we receive local products, it may have been picked the day before at most,” Mayberry said. “If we get it from California, it’s a week old at the least.”

Some of the locally grown food served in dining halls that night and throughout the year come from campus itself. Herbs from the campus gardens behind Jester and in Kinsolving were used in salad dressings at Homegrown Local. 

A group of students called Green Corps maintains the two gardens. Stacey Thomas, human development and family sciences senior, said joining Green Corps in 2014 changed her perspective on food.

“It’s really cool growing your own food and seeing other people eat what you’ve grown and it being the same or better than what you buy at a grocery store,” Thomas said. “I’ve been more conscious of what I put in my body.”