Guide gives student gardeners tips on how to sell, succeed

Patty Mamula/For the Capital Press First-year students at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., spread compost during a service learning project last summer. The kitchen garden was planted in late summer, and the first harvest is now ready for delivery to Bon Appetit. Next spring the student garden club plans to plant specific crops that Bon Appetit needs and will be following procedures for orders and invoicing outlined in the Student Garden Guide.

Sustainable food service company adds expertise

to educational experience

By PATTY MAMULA

For the Capital Press

Many college gardeners sell to their school kitchens. Bon Appetit, a food service company that focuses on sustainability, recently released a Student Garden Guide to support student gardeners.

Maisie Greenawalt, vice president of Bon Appetit, said, "This guide is about helping students to professionalize their operation and to anticipate pitfalls, like holidays and vacations." The guide does not talk about how to grow, but how to sell and succeed as a small farmer.

Bon Appetit has 75 of its 400 on-site cafes at colleges and universities. Greenawalt said, "We think our ourselves as part of the educational experience."

The guide developed from a sales call at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., where the student gardeners were worried about how the relationship with Bon Appetit would work. Greenawalt said, "I assured them we were more than willing to buy anything they grew."

She knew that sounded like an empty promise. She wanted something to demonstrate their commitment to local foods while also teaching best practices for small farming.

Last summer Nina Merrill developed the guide. Merrill was a student intern who had previously created a guide for an organic trade association that Greenawalt thought was exceptionally well done.

She said, " I thought it would be great for a smart student to take on this project, someone who could bridge the gap between students and food service."

The well written guide talks directly to students. It has sections on crop planning, developing relationships with customers, how to package, deliver and invoice plus marketing.

The guide was released this fall in conjunction with the Eat Local Challenge, a day when Bon Appetit cafes serve food grown within 150 miles.

Jason Landau, Bon Appetit's general manager at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., said he served squash, tomatoes and herbs from the student garden for the Challenge. "Right now, the campus garden is a community place. Whatever surplus they have, we buy at a fair price. Mostly that's herbs and vegetables."

The students want to grow the garden. "As they expand, we can buy more," Landau said.

At Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., several students recently contacted Bon Appetit manager Roger Edens about expanding the garden and selling to him. Eden passed the Garden Guide on to them. "It works for students to understand what it take to market to Bon Appetit."

A newly formed student club at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., has been working at Zena Farm, a large tract of land about eight miles off campus, to develop a kitchen garden. Jennifer Johns, the associate director for sustainability, started working with about 10 students in July. "We're getting close to our first harvest," she said.

"We have talked with Bon Appetit about what crops to plant, and we've distributed the Student Garden Guide. We don't want to grow things they're already getting from local producers. In the spring we'll probably start working on real orders," Johns said.

At the College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho, the organic garden has been supported by general manager Matt Caldwell and two student interns. The garden began in the spring of 2008 and just completed its second season, yielding about 50 pounds of tomatoes per week in August and September and 200 pounds of zucchini and squash, among other produce.

Freelance writer Patty Mamula is based in Portland, Ore. E-mail: pattymamula@earthlink.net .

Online

www.bamco.com; click on Student Garden Guide

"The guide is a resource for all student gardeners, everywhere. Food service is an obvious outlet for their products."

Maisie Greenawalt, vice president of Bon Appetit

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