Graham Sustainability Institute

Evidence-based, Sustainable Decision-Making for Institutional Food Service Providers

Project Team

Greg Keoleian - U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) (PI)
Lesli Hoey - U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Alex Bryan - Michigan Dining
Jeremy Moghtader - U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens

External Partners

Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Food Innovation Center
Crop Spot Farm
East Carolina University
Michigan Farm to Institution Network
LaGrasso Brothers Produce

Project Summary

Institutional food service providers have an increasing number of production options to choose from in sourcing fresh, local foods, yet very little information is available to support comparisons of the environmental sustainability of such options. For example, if the local production of salad greens in northern climates requires technological supplementation of heat and light, is it actually better for the environment than shipping those greens in from warmer climates? What does environmental sustainability mean in this context, and how can it be measured?

A major challenge in supporting UM Dining Services and other institutional food service providers is that the data necessary to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) is lacking. To help overcome this barrier, the team will develop and pilot a data collection tool to assist operators of alternative year-round vegetable production systems in identifying and collecting the data necessary to evaluate the relative sustainability of these different options for food sourcing.

At the UM Campus Farm, the team will evaluate production in passive solar hoophouses and in a Freight Farm shipping container that grows food under LED lighting and climate control using hydroponics. The container was brought to campus on long-term loan with support from this grant, and produce grown through the project will be sold to MDining as part of the campus farm offerings.

The team is collaborating with Kalamazoo Valley Community College, East Carolina University, and Crop Spot Farm in Ann Arbor to collect additional data on other indoor production systems that will strengthen the analysis and further test the tool. Based on user feedback, the data collection tool will be refined and disseminated widely.

Additional Resources

Learn more about urban, vertical and indoor agriculture, including the Freight Farm included in this project: Spotlight on urban, vertical and indoor agriculture (FRCN Blogs, January 18, 2019)

This project received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant in 2018.