In a food mecca like Portland, there are endless opportunities to discover the unique culinary bounty of the region—from farmers markets to local cafes to home kitchens. And as the city’s flagship university, Portland State is making strides this year to offer more sustainable, local food on campus.
As part of this effort, PSU’s food service provider, Aramark, hired their first ever sustainability intern this past fall to track local and organic food purchases.
“They brought me in and said ‘we want to buy more local food,’” said Daniele Minniti, sustainability intern for Aramark and a recent graduate of PSU’s Environmental Studies program.
Danielle Grondin, food systems coordinator for the Sustainability Leadership Center, worked with Aramark staff to launch a compost program in the residence halls.
Baselines for local food purchases have been in the PSU-Aramark contract since 2007, but until Minniti was hired, no one at Aramark was tasked with tracking food purchases to ensure these baselines were met. Once Minniti tallies up purchase data to determine which foods are coming from where, Aramark can seek out more local producers and distributors to replace foods that are currently coming from outside the region.
In addition to sourcing more local food, PSU is working to cut down on food packaging and waste. This past fall, Aramark unveiled the green box reusable to-go program at the Viking Food Court in Smith Memorial Student Union. For $3.50, diners can purchase a reusable to-go container to be used at any of the food court vendors. After the meal, the box can be returned to the food court and exchanged for either a clean box or a voucher.
With the assistance of students working and living on campus, Aramark also recently launched a compost program for the residence halls. Students can pick up a personal compost bin—a repurposed plastic yogurt container—from Victor’s in Ondine, collect food scraps in their dorm rooms, and return the bins to Victor’s to be emptied and cleaned out.
“It’s really easy for students, and there’s no extra cost to Victor’s since they’re just reusing yogurt containers,” said Danielle Grondin, senior sociology major and food systems coordinator for the PSU Sustainability Leadership Center.
Like Minniti’s position with Aramark, Grondin’s position with the Sustainability Leadership Center is new this year.
“Since we’ve never had someone assigned to food systems, these projects were always pushed to the back burner,” said Grondin. “Creating this food systems coordinator position was a great push to say ‘let’s do this.’”