‘Local’ Rules the Roost in Ohio State Chicken Supply

If you have chicken in your sandwich, salad or soup for lunch at a campus dining services location, be assured that it’s an Ohio-based meal.

Student Life Dining Services obtains all of its fresh chicken for the Columbus campus from Gerber Poultry in Kidron, Ohio, says Zia Ahmed, senior director of Student Life Dining Services. In fact, the chicken doesn’t cross any out-of-state roads on the way to the university. More than 140 farmers within a 50-mile radius of Gerber supply chicken to the northeast Ohio processing facility. And Northern Haserot, a Cleveland-based foodservice company, distributes the chicken to Ohio State after Gerber processes it.

Dining Services uses local sources for fresh chicken served on campus.

“Even the feed for the chickens is locally made,” Ahmed says.

Dining Services works to incorporate sustainability not only through the support of local farmers and local businesses, but throughout its own organization.

“Our approach to sustainability is that it’s the right thing to do,” says Ahmed. “But we need to understand all of the impacts.”

Many variables come into play in defining an entire food system like the farm-to-plate path of the meals served to students. The university uses well over 350,000 pounds of fresh chicken each year, so in this case using a relatively larger company in the food cycle is more economical and provides the opportunity to create more jobs at a local site. However, in other cases, supporting a small business works better.

“It’s important that we continuously balance the competing needs of higher cost for local products and affordability,” Ahmed says. “We have one of the lowest meal prices in the Big 10, so affordability is a big deal to us.”

In addition, Dining Services is working to educate all team members about food sourcing, Ahmed explains.

“We have some of the best chefs in the world, but they had very little knowledge about the growing part of the food system,” he says. “We want to create a culture of sustainable practices. It shouldn’t be an objective anymore; it’s part of the culture.”

This is the first in a three-part series about sustainability efforts at Student Life Dining Services. Next week: Dairy