Eat Local: Raising Awareness of Local Food Sourcing in UConn Dining Halls

UConn senior Matt Chen is using his research experience to highlight UConn’s success in local food procurement

Male student in dining hall

Matt Chen '22 (CAHNR, CLAS) and collaborators hope to spread the word about UConn's use of local foods in campus dining halls. (Dalton Scott/UConn Photo)

Matt Chen ‘22 (CAHNR, CLAS) is working with UConn Dining Services to heighten student awareness of UConn’s local food purchasing.

Chen, a double major in agricultural and resource economics (ARE) in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and communications, began working with ARE professor Cristina Connolly and fellow CAHNR senior Hannah Colonies-Kelley on a project to increase the amount of food UConn purchased from local farmers.

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“It sounded like an incredible opportunity to impact local food procurement in Dining Services,” Chen says.

When Chen and Kelley began researching the issue, however, he soon discovered UConn Dining Services was already purchasing 36% of its food locally. Other large public universities such as UMass Amherst purchase only 20% of their food locally, on average.

“I think that especially as such a large university, the example UConn can lead for sustainability is important,” Chen says.

This commitment to sourcing local produce not only impacts local farmers; it can provide more nutritious and diverse food options than items transported hundreds or thousands of miles.

Through a grant awarded through the Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants Program in the Office of Sustainability, Chen and Kelley ‘22 are continuing their work to highlight UConn’s success in local food procurement.

Chen is interviewing farmers and distributors to learn more about their relationship with UConn and any hardships they may face while supplying to UConn. The pair is also designing a survey for the UConn undergraduate student body to assess their awareness of UConn’s commitment to locally sourced food. The survey will ask students about their school or college and their experience with food insecurity.

“That’s a major factor in how students look at local food or sustainability,” Chen says.

The survey results will help Chen, Kelley, and UConn Dining Services to develop marketing strategies to increase student awareness of their local food purchasing.

Chen says UConn’s success in local procurement is likely a factor of the strong relationship the University has fostered with area farmers.

“I think UConn has done a really good job at making a connection with food providers,” Chen says. “I think Dining Services, overall, is doing a great job at local food procurement that students aren’t aware of.”

Chen says the skills he has learned working on this project will serve him well after graduation. He is considering graduate school or working for an organization like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

“I’m always looking at how systems can be changed,” Chen says. “I think doing research has given me knowledge and skills to take into any field.”

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