Carolina Dining Services to partner with Warren County farmers

Beginning in May, students will enjoy local produce in the dining halls thanks to a partnership with Bender Farms in Warren County.

The relationship will provide fresh broccoli and cauliflower this spring, with corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, melon and more becoming available in the summer and fall.

Scott Myers, director of food and vending for Carolina Dining Services, said this partnership has been in the works for years.

He said CDS wants to increase the amount of produce purchased from within 150 miles and develop a relationship with farmers so students know where their food is coming from.

Warren County could also benefit from an economic boost, said owner of Bender Farms, Jeff Bender.

Many of the tobacco farms in the county have suffered economically and now hope to expand to produce, Bender said.

But most small farms, like those in Warren, can’t grow enough volume to sell to big institutions like grocery stores.

“Carolina Dining, to their credit, is interested in dealing with a small business,” Bender said.

Bender Farms is currently the only farm in the area working with UNC, Myers said.

“I hope by next year we can have a bigger regional facility in place and can raise anything,” Bender said.

He said he hopes to get 10 or 15 more farms to come together to buy the necessary equipment to grow more.

“It’s our hope that in developing a relationship with this farm we can extend to more within Warren County,” Myers said.

Students should not expect meal plan costs to rise with the new partnership, Myers said.

The regional farms will likely sell at prices UNC can afford, he said.

“As consumers become more savvy, we’re at an advantage,” Bender said.

CDS dietician Kelley Urban said students are becoming more knowledgeable about their food, and there are major health benefits.

She said local foods won’t travel as far and will have less pesticides and chemicals.

Members of the student group Fair, Local, Organic are also excited about the idea, they said.

“It’s wonderful that they’re taking this on and trying to develop more relationships with local farms,” FLO member Jamie Berger said.

FLO member Suzanne Fleishman called the initiative “revolutionary.”

“The way a lot of dining halls work is going through outside sources, but they’re helping to forage a partnership with a farm.”

She said partnerships like these could also help UNC in the future if national food prices rise, adding that contracts with large companies like universities are helpful for small farms.

“This is an amazing step, the perfect example of a win-win situation,” she said.

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