CSUMB’s cafeteria could be pilot for nationwide move to organics on campus.
Thursday, October 6, 2005
Demand for organic foods has been steadily expanding from what was an esoteric stratum into a demographically mixed consumer group—yet still only a handful of chefs in Monterey County restaurants are committed to using organic ingredients.
In a leap beyond the leading edge, The Otter Bay (formerly Otter Bay Café) at CSU Monterey Bay has opened the fall semester by offering a menu featuring 100-percent organic fresh fruit and vegetables, and around 95 percent organic produce in prepared meals.
The breakthrough results from a partnership between the food-service giant Sodexho, which has the contract to provide CSUMB’s food outlets, and local organic giant Earthbound Farms.
Daniel Kaupie is a manager based at the university full time on behalf of Sodexho—a Maryland-based company that contracts food service for more than 900 colleges and has over 120,000 employees.
The good news, according to Kaupie, is that the cost of Earthbound’s organic fruits and vegetables is the same as conventional produce, so Otter Bay customers, primarily students, are not paying more for organic ingredients.
San Juan Bautista-based Earthbound Farms, North America’s largest grower/shipper of organic produce, is following up the smashing success of its retail division with an effort to provide food service channels with organic produce. The relationship represents the first time Earthbound has dealt directly with an end user, rather than working through a distributor.
“We’d like to close the gap with our customers by getting organic produce onto menus and through our normal distribution channels,” says Earthbound’s sales manager, Jon Kiley.
“Our food service customers are currently buying conventional produce,” Kiley says. “And though their customers are asking for organic, they don’t know what to carry and what’s going to sell. So CSUMB is a pilot project for us with Sodexho and with all of our national customers.”
In addition to schools, the food service sector includes restaurants, hospitals, airlines, nursing homes, and day care and senior centers. With sales nationwide now growing faster than supermarket food sales, proponents of organic food have cause for optimism.
The project began last year, when Kaupie met with Kari Bernardi, director of the nonprofit Farm to School (full disclosure: founded by Weekly Community Fund) which is based at CSUMB’s Watershed Institute. The two discussed some initiatives that could be implemented to promote sustainability. At the same time that Kaupie and Bernardi were strategizing about organic farming and composting, some students formed a committee to create more options in food service, such as buying locally.
Bernardi’s relationship with Earthbound Farms led to the partnership.
The Otter Bay overlooks the Monterey Bay from University Center, the hub of campus culture and home to CSUMB’s bookstore. I stopped by for lunch last week to sample the new organic preparations of Chef Sam Wallace, now in his third year in the OB kitchen.
There are more than 100 seats in the light-filled dining room with views of the bay through large windows. A patio with heaters can put one comfortably in the elements. The dining room is tastefully decorated, and touches like cloth napkins and a menu with a range of prices reflect the fact that faculty and staff dine here, too. A bar serves wine and beer, and a large-screen TV broadcasts whatever patrons request.
The Otter Bay opens at 8am for fruit, bagels, pastries and specialty coffees from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. For those who need to grab-and-go, there are Earthbound salads, bags of carrots, and raisins for sale.
Lunch entrées are mostly sandwiches and wraps, plus burgers and chicken. The dinner menu adds items such as baby back ribs, rib-eye steak, lemon herb chicken, and a burger that’s three ounces beefier than at lunch. Wallace also prepares specials that change weekly.
Several salads are offered at both lunch and dinner, including variations on the Caesar salad—plain or with tofu, Cajun salmon, or chicken. A grilled vegetable quesadilla appetizer sounds more interesting now that I know the vegetables are organic, and there are comfort appetizers like onion rings, buffalo wings, and breaded mozzarella sticks.
I tried the Asian chicken wrap, impressive with chunks of chicken breast, organic greens, mandarin oranges, and just the right dose of sesame sauce. I look forward to the day when the chicken is organic, hormone-free and free-range as well. A cup of Tazo Zen Green tea, carrot cake from Seaside’s own Cypress Bakery, and a friendly, helpful staff made it worth the trip to campus.
One cool thing about Sodexho and The Otter Bay’s commitment is that it is more than a superficial appeasement. Plastic flatware and containers for take-out are made from 100-percent biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and GMO-free corn byproduct plastic, and other ideas are in the works.
Those who haven’t been on campus lately might enjoy seeing how wonderfully our former military base continues to evolve by heading over to The Otter Bay. Remember to bring a quarter per hour of parking so you won’t have to go inside to get change.
The Otter Bay is located in the University Center, 6th Avenue, Building 29 at CSUMB in Seaside. Open Monday-Thursday, 8am to 8pm; Friday 8am to 6pm.