In the past two years Pomona College has worked to incorporate a variety of organic and local food items into its dining halls. Sustainability and Purchasing Coordinator Samantha Meyer PO ’10 has led this initiative since her graduation. This semester, Meyer left Pomona to work for a nonprofit organization in the Bay Area.
“I see the biggest achievement as the amount of sustainable food we were able to source—from under nine percent sustainable food to over 40 percent,” Meyer said. “Sustainability, ethical food sourcing, and health were not priorities when I was a student. That is no longer the case.”
Char Miller, the director of the environmental analysis (EA) program at Pomona, said Meyer’s work made a difference in campus sustainability efforts.
“She really began to change the conversation about food on campus, why sustainable agriculture and fisheries and the like were so essential. She made sustainability a mission for the food that we all consume,” Miller said.
As Sustainability Coordinator, Meyer was responsible for purchasing and sourcing products as well as reaching out to local farmers.
“She was the conduit between us as a department and the vendors,” said Glenn Graziano, General Manager of Pomona Dining Services. “She was instrumental in helping develop relationships with local farmers.”
Dining Services has had to adjust since Meyer left her job.
“I think we’re in an interesting period on the campus where we had this one really stellar person who pushed the story, and now we need to do the next stage of that work, and I hope we do,” Miller said.
Since Meyer left her job, Dining Services has been negotiating directly with local farmers in the area.
“The executive chef and I visited one of our local farmers out in Rialto, John Adams, who is actually a Pomona alum and runs Adams Acres, the last orange grove in Rialto,” Graziano said. “The benefits are two-fold: We are supporting local sustainable farmers and offering a healthier variety of options to students, many of which they’d never seen.”
Meyer’s work in the dining halls started in her senior year, when she investigated the food that the dining halls bought.
“This started out as her senior thesis in EA, in which she stood on the landing docks, opened up every crate, looked inside, tried to figure out what was, in the terminology used in the food world, ‘real food’–that is to say, what its value was in terms of nutrition and the like,” Miller said.
After her analysis of what faculty and staff were consuming on campus, Meyer came to the conclusion that Pomona was not sufficiently promoting sustainable choices.
“She ended with this central argument that if, as a liberal arts college, we think education is so valuable and sustainability and resources so essential, then why [are] we not thinking about the dining hall in the same way?” Miller said. “The consequence of her thesis was that she got hired to do that.”
Meyer, along with the dining hall team, collaborated to reach the goals the school set for its dining program.
“Pomona’s President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability [PACS] decides certain goals and percentages of sustainable food that we must reach,” Graziano said.
PACS was started by Pomona President David Oxtoby in 2006 and consists of student leaders, faculty, and staff.
“We advise him on all sorts of things, including solar power, water resources, and in this case, also on food,” Miller said.
Meyer’s new job with the nonprofit Clean Water Action draws on her experience with Pomona Dining Services.
“[Meyer] is doing some really important work with food waste and how to prevent that from getting in landfills, where it would pollute watersheds,” Miller said.
Meyer hopes that Pomona will continue to carry out the program she implemented.
“The college has made big strides in developing a sustainable food program over the last several years,” Meyer said. “I hope they continue to move forward.”