College reaps feast from campus farm

March 29, 2014

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer

The Daily Star

Last week, students at SUNY Cobleskill dined on rabbit that was raised on the campus farm, a concept in line with a recent initiative announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will encourage greater usage of local products in restaurants across New York.

Jeff Weissinger, director of dining services at the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, said the five dining establishments on campus, as well as the off-campus restaurant on Main Street, Coby’s Cafe, pledged to continue to use as many locally produced agricultural products as possible, including those from the college farm. This year, 25 percent of the college’s total food budget was spent locally, Weissinger said, and next year the college is hoping to raise that percentage to 35.

Cobleskill was one of more than 100 restaurants that recently took the Pride of NY Pledge, a commitment to increase the sourcing, marketing and education of New York State-grown and made products, according to a media release from Cuomo’s office. The pledge is part of the Taste NY initiative, the release said, and will help raise more awareness and introduce more New York State-made products to restaurants, and their patrons, across the state.

Weissinger said the rabbit meal is just one example of how the college is using local products in its meals. Pork, beef, goat, chicken and fish from the college’s farm is served regularly and more than 90 percent of the produce that used comes from local farms, he said. The college works with a company out of Gloversville, called Antonucci’s Wholesale Produce, he said, to locate and purchase the produce.

More and more, Weissinger said, people want to know where there food is coming from. Off-campus, more than 150 people dine at Coby’s each day, he said.

“We firmly believe in buying as much of our products locally as possible,” Weissinger said, “in order to support the local economy and to be able to tell our students and visitors where the food they are eating came from. Buying local is just the right thing to do.”

Beth McKellips, Farm to Market Manager at Watershed Agricultural Council in Walton, said it is exciting to have a governor who is encouraging the local food movement. There are “so many” different products grown across the state, she said, and they are in high demand.

“We get a lot of calls from restaurants in New York City looking to get a hold of our local products,” McKellips said.

McKellips oversees Pure Catskills, a member-based initiative that connects farmers and restaurants so that local agricultural products can be used. More than 55,000 copies of the organization’s yearly magazine are printed and are designed to help visitors to the area find local products. McKellips said Pure Catskills recently went with six local farms and their products to the International Food and Restaurant Show in New York City.

Onions, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, garlic, greens and dairy products, such as cheese, ice cream, cream cheese and milk, are just a few locally produced products that Cobleskill probably uses all the time, McKellips said.

“College kids eat a lot of burgers,” McKellips said. “The college can make use of great, local grass-fed beef.”

The Pride of NY Pledge, McKellips said, is an exciting step in the right direction.

“It’s just the beginning of New York actually being fed by New York,” she said, “instead of having food that has come all the way from California in a truck.”

Other facilities that have made the Pride of NY pledge include restaurants in Latham, Albany and Babylon, as well as many in the New York City area. According to the release, each chef and or restaurant participating in the initiative has pledged to: increase its sourcing of New York State-grown and made products and ingredients by 10 percent, including products from New York’s beverage producers; introduce New York-themed dishes made with locally sourced and seasonal products, consistently communicate their commitment with suppliers, peers and the public to encourage more support of New York State food and beverages; and educate staff and maintain knowledge of New York State’s locally grown and made products.

“New York is home to some of the best food and beverage producers in the world, a fact the Taste NY initiative has played a crucial part in promoting,” Cuomo said. “The more New Yorkers and tourists buy the great food we produce in this state, the more we grow our booming agricultural and tourism industries. I thank the businesses that have taken the Pride of NY pledge which will help continue to spread the word that New York has some of the best products across the globe.”