Mercer University students are helping support local farmers when they eat at the Fresh Food Company or Farmers Market on the Macon campus.
In August, Mercer Dining partnered with The Common Market, a regional food distributor that connects communities to sustainable family farmers.
“Anytime you can help sustain the local farmers, it’s always going to be better,” said Ed Robertson, resident district manager of Mercer Dining. “The distance the produce travels matters. The sooner you can get it, the fresher it’s going to be.”
The Common Market supplies Mercer with food grown within a 150-250 miles radius of Atlanta, where the nonprofit is based, said Mercer Dining Executive Chef Jimmy Brown. The University primarily receives produce through the partnership but is considering ordering pantry staples, such as flour, as well.
“Right now, we are getting a lot of hydroponic lettuces — romaine, spring mixes, tender greens,” Brown said at the end of September. “We also get zucchini and squash because we know we use them a lot already, so that’s very easy to integrate into our menus.”
In addition, Mercer Dining has received tomatoes, watermelons, cucumbers, oranges and bell peppers through the partnership.
Students can find most of The Common Market produce on the salad bar. The fruits and vegetables also are used in a number of dishes throughout the Fresh Food Company and Farmers Market.
Since the launch of the collaboration, the University has purchased 25% of its ingredients directly from small, local farms, said Shonda Lewis, Mercer Dining’s marketing manager.
The partnership aligns with Mercer Dining’s commitment to sustainability. It allows the University to leverage its purchasing power to drive positive change in the food ecosystem, she said.
“Using fresh ingredients and locally sourced products not only reduces waste but also creates more economic opportunities within our communities,” she said. “This approach not only minimizes our impact on the environment but also encourages sustainable practices.”
The Mercer Dining team toured The Common Market’s warehouse before entering the collaboration.
“It was just stunning,” Robertson said. “And while we were there, they also had somebody prepare foods from all the product that they have in house, and all the food was just absolutely phenomenal.”