Across campus, a plethora of initiatives from rain gardens, LED lighting, and permeable pavers to bike stations, electric car stations, and dual-phase exhaust hoods underscore the school’s commitment to the environment.
Look inside its culinary programs and this mantra is even more evident.
“One of the main drivers for culinary sustainability has been our relationship with the American Culinary Federation (ACF),” says Chef Lilly Burdsall, CCC, CCE, Purchasing and Facility Manager of the Midwest Culinary Institute (MCI) at Cincinnati State, who also serves on the Cincinnati State Green Team and leads the school’s culinary sustainability program. “As chefs, we drive trends and a great many of us want to sustain this beautiful planet and the bounties it affords us. With ACF as our accrediting body, MCI has been a leader in sustainable food purchasing for its academic programs. This has had a spillover effect within our foodservice program.”
For Burdsall, it used to be challenging to even find sustainable products or farmers nearby from whom we could purchase. But as demand for high quality, ethical and locally sourced ingredients has increased, the lines of communication have opened and Burdsall’s network has grown substantially.
“I started by sourcing local chicken,” she says. “Now we buy as much lamb and pork as we can from Ohio or Kentucky. All our honey comes from a nearby farm. Our local produce availability has also grown steadily, allowing us to use local items when they are in season for many of our needs.”
Cincinnati State is landlocked so “local” seafood isn’t possible. But that hasn’t stopped the school from its pledge to be more green.
“Our seafood program features over 90 percent certified sustainable products,” says Burdsall, who has been with the school for 12 years.
As a 100 percent commuter college, Cincinnati State is unique among colleges pushing to become more sustainable. The school does not offer a meal plan, however the dining program feeds more than 1,200 students and staff daily. There is one large cafeteria, an upscale bakery, a fine dining restaurant and a smaller bakery storefront. Foodservices also handle all on-site catering.
“We’ve partnered with several local farms and producers to bring in the best in fresh and healthy products for our students and customers, while also supporting the local economy and reducing our carbon emissions,” says Burdsall. “We changed packaging to be eco-friendlier. We reduced food waste by scaling back portion sizes as well as offering half orders. We also donate food from culinary classes to local organizations to help reduce food waste.”
One non-profit partnership of which Burdsall is especially proud—called “La Soupe”— rescues edible "ugly" produce from local grocers and farmers and transforms it into delicious, healthy soups which are distributed to local children whose families are food-insecure.
“This is an amazing program addressing both the child poverty issue and the food waste issue,” says Burdsall. “MCI has kept over four tons of food out of landfills and transformed it into good food in our first year of participation. It’s also a positive way to utilize any product overages we have.”
In addition to working with non-profits, Cincinnati State looks to purchase equipment from suppliers who share its sustainable mindset. One such example is DayMark, a Bowling Green,HOhio-based company striving to make a positive impact on the environment wherever possible.
“We often receive inquiries from customers and prospective customers wanting to understand our position on sustainability,” says DayMark’s David Stalica, Director of Engineering & Coatings. “It matters knowing that DayMark’s overall operations are aligned with their own initiatives and goals for sustainability. Likewise, we hold regular Sustainability Summits with our vendor partners for the same reason.” To that end, DayMark has instituted a sustainability dashboard which tracks their efforts in energy conservation, facility consciousness and recycling. For example, one recycling program has reduced monthly trash going to the landfill by more than 20 percent.
“It’s important to us to use products from companies which have a similar commitment to sustainability,” says Burdsall, adding that using in-state vendors is highly encouraged as well. “We just purchased several DayMark PRO units and we are really excited about the many uses for the label makers that will help us to be more efficient and sustainable.”
The labels will help the school better monitor production, improve forecasting, and ultimately reduce overproduction—making the operation even more sustainable.
In the receiving and distribution areas, items can be clearly marked as to when they arrived and when they need to be used, explains Burdsall. This will help with rotation and preventing product loss. It will also allow the school to communicate better with its different outlets so each can monitor inventory more closely.
“In our grab-and-go areas, the labels will bring us into perfect compliance with all the FDA and local health department regulations,” she adds.
“As a company, we believe making a positive impact on the environment—wherever possible—is the right thing to do,” says Steve Hill, DayMark’s Senior Director of Process and Quality Management, noting that in September DayMark was GMP certified as a manufacturer of printed labels for the food service industry. The company also meets Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Forest Management and Chain of Custody Certification requirements for the production and distribution of labels and paper using the transfer system.
“This is an exciting time at Cincinnati State as we look for new ways to become more sustainable,” says Burdsall. “As chefs and educators, it is our job to bring awareness to the sustainability of our planet and food supply. It's such a vast and complex issue. By using foodservice as a vehicle to educate, we can help bring awareness to larger issues.”