Inside Iowa State

Inside Archives

Submit news

Send news for Inside to, or call (515) 294-7065. See publication dates, deadlines.

About Inside

Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 9, 2007

ISU Dining extends invitation to Iowa farmers, ranchers

by Anne Krapfl

Last year, $153,000 worth of ISU Dining's food purchases was from local growers and other niche producers in adjacent states. Director Nancy Levandowski has a five-year plan to grow that figure significantly, a plan she launched Feb. 28.

About 30 farmers, ranchers and specialty processors - from places like Kellogg, LeMars, State Center, Grimes and Madrid - who currently don't do business with ISU Dining listened to Levandowski's proposal at the Memorial Union. The meeting was hosted by the Leopold Center, which issued the invitation through three state organizations it works with that are interested in expanding markets for Iowa farmers - Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture and the Iowa Farmers Union.

All offers considered

"If you're a small or big operation, don't take yourself out," Levandowski told those in attendance. "We do it all, from a private dinner for seven to a picnic for 10,000." She said that to service the residential dining centers (which serve 7,500 students daily), ISU catering, 300 vending machines and the retail stores and cafes, ISU Dining needs to purchase a lot of food ($6 million annually) and appeal to a wide range of tastes and preferences. Five years from now, in the 2011-12 academic year, her goal is that 35 percent of ISU Dining food purchases will be sustainable. By that, she means food purchases that assure that:

  • Farmers can make a living
  • Customers have a healthy and affordable diet
  • The environment and human health are protected
  • The vitality of communities is strengthened

Her emphasis, she said, is on freshness and quality. Price is a consideration, but not the deciding factor, she noted. She has added one-half of 1 percent to her food purchasing budget in FY08 to support the effort.

She said ISU Dining is interested in organic foods, natural foods, foods from Iowa companies and new products. (Several ranchers who attended brought along cuts of meat that ISU Dining executive chef Everett Phillips will work with to see if and how they could be included in a future menu.)

"But," she cautioned, "if you tell me you're organic, you have to prove it to me. You have to get certified. These are standards I'm sharing with you that aren't going to change."

What's next

This isn't a new concept for dining services, Levandowski said, noting it's been about 11 years since the first all-Iowa meal was served to residence hall students. What's new is the volume and consistency Levandowski hopes to establish.

Levandowski outlined the online application process to become a vendor to ISU Dining, as well as the university's public bid process. She encouraged farmers and ranchers to determine their own interest and proceed as soon as they're ready.

"We want to do this," she said. "We think it's important, it's part of our strategic planning, and we think the public is buying into the importance of sustainability.

"It's got to work for the growers. I know you have to cover costs," she added. "It has got to be win-win."

Leopold Center associate director Rich Pirog said growers' and ranchers' names likely will be put into a new listserv so information, questions and answers can be shared for the benefit of all. Levandowski also said she anticipates setting up a university steering team that would respond to issues and vendor questions as they come up.


"It's got to work for the growers. I know you have to cover costs. It has got to be win-win."

-Nancy Levandowski, ISU Dining director