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Changes come to BC Dining

Weekly Farmer's Market among efforts

Published: Thursday, September 20, 2007

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Corcoran Commons Plaza becomes a rainbow of color each Thursday when Boston College Dining Services unveiled its first in a series of farmer's markets, one of several new improvements in the dining halls.

Students formed a line starting at 2:15 p.m. for the market's 3 p.m. opening, hoping to get their hands on fresh corn, tomatoes, lettuce, apples, and even lemon cucumbers before supplies ran out. Highly coveted blueberries went first, selling out in just seven minutes, said Helen Wechsler, director of BC Dining.

All of the produce sold came from locally-based farms across New England, and prices, though higher than the super market, remained reasonable on the whole. The farmer's markets will continue until early October, weather permitting, and BC Dining hopes to reopen the market in the late spring. This coming week, Wechsler hopes to bring in new shipments of mozzarella cheese, garlic, onions, bread, and even apple pies.

Wechsler explained that the farmer's market has been an important tool to educate students about the benefits of buying locally. "Buying local means that you're really supporting a person or a family. BC students have such a great impact on social justice issues at home and abroad, and now they have the opportunity to do that with their dining choices," she said.

In addition to supporting small businesses, which generally have better working conditions than conglomerate farms, Wechsler said that the costs of shipping local products are minimal, which helps reduce the "carbon footprint" large institutions like BC tend to leave behind. Buying local, fresh produce means the product comes directly to you from the farm.

"You're paying for the quality of your food," she said. Prices will vary from week to week; as the season wanes, supply will be harder to come by.

BC Dining sets prices at the farmer's markets the same way they do for all of their other products, in order to cover their expenses and at least break even. Students may use their mandatory meal plans, Optional Dining bucks, and Eagle bucks at the farmer's market.

The idea for the farmer's market has been in the works for about two years, Wechsler said. The major difficulty was coordinating local farmers through a single vender. Small farmers will go to restaurants and sell what their supply allows. At a large university like BC, dining services need "hundreds of cases of lettuce," all guaranteed, a quota that can be difficult for local farmers to meet.

Through Costa Produce, a local vendor with a buyer that specializes in locally grown produce, BC Dining was able to pull it all together at the end of this summer. The idea wasn't conceived alongside the Undergraduate Government of Boston College dining committee because Wechsler didn't know if it was even feasible yet. "We had the idea for a while, but we weren't sure if we could make it happen."

Students around campus appeared excited at the prospect of making eco-friendly, healthy choices when it came to their food.

"I worked on a farm this summer, and I got really passionate about where my food comes from," said Danielle Cortesa, A&S '09. "Buying locally is a step in the right direction."

Carly DeFilippo, A&S '09, spoke highly of both the reasonable prices and how the market will help to diversify options for students and attract more vegetarians. "It can be hard to find fresh produce, and this is cheaper than Campus Convenience," she said.

BC Dining continues its new focus on local foods by featuring burgers at Hillside Café for dinner. The all-natural beef comes from Wolfneck Farms in Maine. The cattle raised at Wolfneck Farms have been fed a strict vegetarian diet, treated humanely, and are free of growth hormones. Wechsler is visiting the farm in the near future to look more closely at the dairy and other cuts of meat that the farm offers.

At the Eagle's Nest in McElroy, Wechsler's team looked to satisfy the customer by evening out lines and diversifying options. An additional specialty sandwich line has been added, along with a dessert station, hot press station featuring sandwiches on foccacia bread, and a soup station with six different soup wells. The Toss It and deli stations remain as old favorites.

At Corcoran Commons, Stuart Dining Hall, and Carney's, Wechsler enlisted the help of her employees in an attempt to add more varying and international cuisine to the World Market menu. "We have 33 different nations represented in our kitchens," Wechsler said.

She asked her employees to cook a dish that they enjoy or that comes from their nation of origin, as long as it could be mass produced. The result was an array of many delicious meals, ranging from Thai dishes at Carney's, to Latin dishes at Corcoran Commons, to Moroccan dishes at Stuart.

Ultimately, Wechsler said she looks to the students to supply her with as much specific feedback as they can, so that new initiatives like the farmer's market can come to fruition. "We rely on our customers to tell us what's important," she said.

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