Home-grown food and beehives sow seeds for national sustainability award.

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Innovation in sustainability has earned the University of Chester’s Catering team national recognition.

The team has won the prestigious Sustainability Award from The University Caterers Organisation Ltd (TUCO,) beating tough competition from higher education institutions from across the country.

The judging panel looked at how catering teams kept sustainability at the top of the agenda despite the challenges of the pandemic.

The team at the University of Chester has worked hard over the past seven years to put its sustainability goals into meaningful and quantifiable action that involves students and staff at every level.

This has been clearly demonstrated by its Garden 2 Table initiative, which has been developed over the last 18 months across all the University sites. The aim of the project was to reduce food waste, raise awareness of food sustainability with students and work closely with the University’s Grounds and Gardens team to ensure students understand where their food comes from.

The project’s initial motivation came from being able to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers in the borders and greenhouses on the University’s premises and replace the previously grown annual flowers. The two teams worked together to repurpose and make full use of University land to grow food for catering outlets and to sell in the community fridge in the Sustainability Shop on the Exton Park site.

Using home-grown fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, the Catering team creates menus for its sites, ensuring that meals for students are healthy and locally grown, reducing the food mileage of the food on offer and keeping food waste low. Abundant food is donated to the Greenway Grocer, a sustainable bike service that collects fruit and vegetables to be given away in the local community.

Any food not used in catering outlets becomes part of the team’s Too-Good-to-Throw scheme, where leftover food from the catering outlets is available for customers to buy as a takeaway meal.

The Grounds and Gardens team aims to increase the students’ understanding of food provenance through activities such as the student fruit picking trail through the University’s fruit orchards and student sessions on the allotment. Head Chef, Chris Murphy, offers cooking sessions during Induction Week on healthy, sustainable cooking practices and cutting food waste.

The new onsite beehives are producing honey and jams, and chutneys are also being made from the home-grown produce. Menus also promote a large number of plant-based dishes.

The Grounds and Gardens team sells spider plants that students can use to personalise their rooms. And flowers, plants and bulbs are sold in the Sustainability Shop, which also stocks pasta, rice and other items that the University has been able to buy in bulk and students can buy using their own containers.

A keep cup scheme, where customers are given a reusable cup for £2, has saved more than 73,000 takeaway cups from being thrown away since the scheme was launched.

The TUCO awards recognise and celebrate the effort, improvement and achievement from its members. TUCO is the leading professional membership body for in-house caterers – supporting procurement and learning excellence and working to provide quality standards and advice to those working in public sector catering.

Ian White, Domestic Bursar and Executive Director of the University of Chester’s Hospitality and Residential Services, said: “I am so proud of everyone who has worked together on our sustainability projects.

“Our innovative decision to introduce our Garden 2 Table sustainability initiative at all levels and make sure that the student community is fully involved has already started to produce tangible results in waste, cost and carbon footprint reduction that will have even more positive benefits in the years to come. Our collaborative approach between different University departments has proved that we can achieve our goals in a truly impressive way and has made sustainability part of students’ experience from their first day at the University of Chester.”

Caption: Ian White and Paula Martindale, Senior Catering Operations Manager.

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