sustainable food

Rodolfo Lujan, display cook at the Division of Housing and Food Service, inspects brisket Thursday afternoon. The brisket, although not locally raised, was served during the Homegrown Local event, which highlighted Texas food, at Kinsolving Dining Hall.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

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.”


Campus executive chef Robert Mayberry harvests some vegetables from the Kingsolving garden Tuesday afternoon. The success of Kingsolving’s garden has led to the creation of a new garden in Jester this past September and the creation of Green Corps, an organization to help harvest and maintain both residence hall gardens. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Austin is known for its locally grown foods, but the Jester dining halls take it a step further. Since December, some of the produce on Jester’s shelves has been grown in a student-run garden just outside.

The new garden was commissioned in September of last year after the success of the Kinsolving garden, which was constructed in 2009 to provide vegetables and herbs to the chefs in UT dining halls. 

Green Corps, an organization created this year by the University to educate students about the importance of locally grown food, provides assistance in maintaining the two residence hall gardens at the University. Before Green Corps, kitchen staff had to maintain the garden.

“We really wanted staff and students aware of environmentally friendly ways of eating and living,” said Rachel Markowitz, student manager of Green Corps. “If you’re going to talk about sustainable food, you should grow some of your own.” 

Currently, the garden’s main produce is lettuce because of its fast growth rate. Markowitz said Green Corps will most likely plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and peas in the spring. 

According to Hunter Mangrum, environmental specialist for the Division of Housing and Food Service, Green Corps has harvested lettuce and radishes about four times this season and was able to harvest six to eight pounds of the vegetables in total. The amount of produce harvested from the gardens is limited because Green Corps’ mission is to grow things that thrive in Central Texas without needing to use pesticides, Markowitz said.

Unlike many home gardens that are watered with hoses or sprinklers, the University’s residence hall gardens each have an 8,000-gallon rainwater collection tank that runs off of solar power. The tanks collect and filter rainwater from the rooftops and use drip irrigation lines to water the plants.

“[The gardens] don’t consume any grid electricity or water,” Mangrum said. “There’s no city water or UT electricity that goes into this.”

The Division of Housing and Food Services has no concrete plans to build another residence hall garden, but it does have a group of students planning a pilot mushroom garden that can be replicated in dark corners on campus. 

“We’re like this little concrete island in the middle of the city, but we’re growing produce at the same time and using students in a way that they can get experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Mangrum said.

Campus executive chef Robert Mayberry said he liked the idea of growing organic produce at the University because he wants to provide more sustainable food to students.

“I love having it right there, fresh from the garden when I’m ready to use it,” Mayberry said. “It makes a big difference in quality and flavor.”

The amount of sustainable, local and organic food purchased for the dining halls makes up over 20 percent of the total food budget, Mayberry said. 

According to Mayberry, the main supplier of produce for on-campus dorms is US Food Services, and, for the last four to five years, the University has worked with the Sustainable Food Center to use local, small farms.