By Mary Catherine Gaston
Where does my food come from?
Perhaps like never before, people today want to know—sense a need to know—where the meal they’re about to consume actually had its beginnings.
The answer to that question for the 3,850 students, faculty and staff at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton is now growing closer to home.
That’s because last summer, ABAC quietly assumed control of its dining operations after more than 20 years of outsourcing the work to external corporations. The “soft” launch of ABAC’s Georgia Grown dining experience was an overwhelming success, according to David Bridges, the college’s president.
“The first year of local sourcing was incredible,” Bridges says, describing the last 12 months as a “proof-of-concept year.”
From the outset, ABAC leaders set a goal of sourcing 25 percent of ingredients for all its culinary offerings from Georgia farms. To underpin the plan, ABAC hired a talented local chef and a dining services manager who were both committed to local sourcing. Students, faculty, staff and guests all fell in love with the new menus. The business model worked. Financials were good.
Best of all, Bridges says, ABAC exceeded the 25 percent goal, leading to an even more substantial commitment as the team at Donaldson Dining Hall begin their second year of farm-to-table operations. Now officially a Georgia Grown partner, ABAC leaders intend to source 50 percent of ingredients from Georgia producers during the remainder of 2019.
That’s a big deal.
But homegrown is not just a pleasant answer to a complicated question. ABAC’s commitment to in-state sourcing also means more dollars in the pockets of the 392,000-plus hard-working men and women employed in our state’s number one industry. Any way you slice it, this is a sustainable commitment that makes good sense.
Bridges will be the first to tell you it’s a crowning accomplishment of his time at the school’s helm. Raised on a farm in Terrell County, he holds three agriculture degrees and has enjoyed a career of service to the industry as both an educator and university administrator. But when it comes down to it, he’s still a farm kid from southwest Georgia who appreciates the impact a move like this one makes.
“It’s no secret that Georgia is an agricultural powerhouse,” Bridges says, pointing to the Peach State’s high rankings in production of both food and fiber crops. “Considering ABAC’s heritage as an agricultural school and our location in the heart of Georgia’s fruit and vegetable growing region, this commitment to our students, our faculty, staff and everyone employed in Georgia’s ag industry is a natural fit.”
Bridges and ABAC’s dining services team welcome not only the campus, but also the community and anyone who happens by on I-75 to drop in and have a taste of Georgia. To find the dining hall on ABAC’s campus map, visit www.abac.edu.