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Parkhurst Dining has instituted some new initiatives this year. Their initial partnership with Valparaiso University began in 2019. 

Among the changes, Parkhurst Dining has sought out locally sourced foods.

“So our current initiatives are [that] Parkhurst has a goal of 20% locally sourced foods and we have different parameters for different products. So 150 miles for chicken, 200 miles for eggs, things like that,” said Lee Keener, general manager of Parkhurst Dining. 

Keener will receive a “Know Your Source” report soon, covering the past two years that will tell him where the food used by Parkhurst comes from.

“So I expect to find that out. Although everything we’ve gotten in the last two years is going to be muddy because the last two years were pretty crazy. First year, we had an opening and the second year we had a pandemic. So I don’t know where those numbers are going to fall out. We do keep those records for every purchase,” Keener said. 

Parkhurst opts to use only those that are in season.

“We capture seasonality and we never airship produce. That’s not really a Parkhurst thing, that’s a Lee thing. I don’t like to put things on an airplane if I don’t need to,” Keener said. “So that’s why you’ll see things like, ‘Hey, why don’t we have any blueberries in January?’ Well, that’s because they’re only coming from Chile and I’m not going to put them on a plane, I just don’t think that’s right.”

They have also partnered with Eden Farms, a hydroponic farm that recently opened in Francesville, Ind. 

“Great organization, great group of people and our coolers right now are filled with those greens,” Keener said. “So you’re going to see some things on the salad bar this week that are a little bit different. I mean it’s twenty to thirty minutes away. And you’ll hear more about them because we’ll start advertising them, maybe bring them in and do demos, things like that. So people can understand who they are and why that makes a big difference.”

Parkhurst added more plant based protein options alongside traditional proteins already being offered. These include produce grown by Eden Farms. 

“So on the salad bar you’re always going to see a certain amount of beans and legumes like chickpeas and edamame and black beans. You’re always going to see grains like quinoa and millet and kamut, high protein things. You’re also going to see a lot of vegetables as well that people don’t think of. I mentioned edamame, but broccoli and mushrooms are full proteins,” Keener said. 

Keener also emphasized the use of natural ingredients. 

“And notice all of those are natural ingredients and not replacements and by replacements I mean tofu, tempeh, seitan, Impossible Burger, veggie burger, things like that. We really shy away from the processed ones. But we do serve Impossible Burgers on occasion as well,” Keener said. 

Additionally, Parkhurst has established disposable initiatives. 

“Our standard is that if we have a single-use item that it’s made from recyclable material or that it can be recycled. We could easily outfit this place with all compostables, but if there’s no program set up for composting then it's an added expense that I can’t force you to take because if I spend the money, you’re spending the money because it comes back to your meal plan,” Keener said. “So right now, there’s no place to send compostable products. It takes a lot of land and a lot of equipment. If we find that partner and it’s affordable and we can figure out how to do it, then we’ll certainly take part in it.”

Keener also emphasized the use of local ingredients as a way to give money back to the community.

“A lot of times it’s [produce] cheaper in the bigger box store, even in a grocery store. The reason it’s cheaper is because they’re shortchanging the producer. So that’s capitalism at its best, but it’s the system that we’ve been given that we use here,” Keener said. 

Parkhurst cooks with herbs that are grown in the VU campus garden. 

“We use herbs out of there. Any long term crop is susceptible to disease and issues so we don’t use those here, like cucumbers, tomatoes and squash and things like that. But herbs that are short growth period and less susceptible then we are permitted to use herbs. The other things I have to buy from someone, there’s rules for that,” Keener said. 

Keener advises students to report their thoughts about dining services directly to Parkhurst staff. Their hope is that these comments will help them to improve the VU dining experience. 

“Anytime you hear anything about food or food service, please share with them that we want to hear it. We want the same thing as you. So if there’s something you don’t like out there, we want to hear about it. And we’re going to do a better job of letting people know that,” Keener said.  

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