Many of you may have noticed the large, rocket shaped pastry display cases now located in some of Western's campus markets. They feature donuts, muffins, and brownies, to name a few. Well, these are the products of Rocket Donuts, a local business with a store on Holly Street and a drive-thru on Samish Way.
Ramiro Espinoza, Associated Students president, stated that in 2003, Sodexho, a large dining services company responsible for many nationwide school lunches, signed an exclusive ten-year dining contract with Western. This contract excluded only very small catered university events and Vendor's Row, a student favorite outside of the Viking Union (VU) for hotdogs and cheap Chinese. So how is it that Rocket Donuts found its way onto campus, a place usually stocked strictly by Sodexho?
Rocket Donuts manager Stephanie Norris said that they originally contacted the school about getting into Vendor's Row. They accidentally called Dining Services and it turned out that Sodexho was already interested in diversifying its baked good selection. Now, Rocket Donuts is selling their own baked goods in The Atrium, the VU, and Miller Market, Norris said.
Rocket Donuts has now replaced Sodexho's muffins, brownies, and cinnamon rolls, Norris said, and it also sells donutsï£§ of courseï£§ and other pastries.
"The old muffins were dry and chunky but the new muffins are moist and well balanced and they have cream cheese muffins now,” Western junior, Kayle Walls, 20, said.
Besides the obvious benefits of having scrumptious baked goods on campus, Rocket Donuts also has a no-waste food policy. This means that the leftover food is gathered and then picked up at the end of the day and transported to local food banks, Norris explained. This dramatically cuts back on waste, she said.
So far the transition isn't complete, Norris said, as Rocket Donuts baked goods are not available at every market. This is the first time that Rocket Donuts has sold its food to another distributor, Norris said, and now, the bakery is making sure they can handle the new workload. Hopefully, Rocket Donuts will eventually be in every market, Norris said.
Emily Stebbins, a member of the Student's for Sustainable Foods, an AS club, said she thinks it is a very good thing to support local business and especially one that is ecologically conscious.
“In the right situation we look to be as sustainable as we can," Ira Simon, University Dining Services director, said. However, the main reasons for this switch were that it provides variety, quality, and value to the students and cuts out the economically inefficient Dining Services bakery, Simon said. It is not practical to bring in a company solely because it is local, but it was an added benefit, he said.
Stebbins said that the benefits of buying local are substantial.
"You have to think of the gas mileage that goes into your food,” Stebbins said. “If you buy an organic apple from New Zealand then it has to be flown to you, which wastes gas."
Buying local cuts back on that wasted fuel, Stebbins said. Buying local is also important for farmland preservation, she said.
"Bellingham is beautiful and it's beautiful because of the farmland," Stebbins said. "But small farms are struggling." Buying locally supports these farmlands so they don't become paved over and turned into urban sprawl, she said.
The university does utilize some other local businesses, Simons said. Bellwood Acers, a Whatcom county farm, provides most of the apples during its growing season, which runs from October until May, Simon said. Baker's Breakfast Cookies are another local product sold on campus, he said.
Simon explained that there are challenges involved in making the switch to local vendors. A lot of local farms are limited by their growing season, and don't have the produce that University Dining needs at the times they need it, he said. Also University Dining has a "quality assurance program" by which they must be sure that the product is a good quality and also, that the farm has adequate insurance coverage, Simon said. Smaller farms can always pay for this, he said.
Although Western does not donate its food waste like Rocket Donuts, it does send its waste to be composted, Simon said. They also implemented a tray-less program over the summer in the dining halls where no trays were provided to students, he said. This caused students take less food and cut back 45% on waste, Simon said.
So although it doesn't look like we will all be eating Co-Op fair anytime soon it is good to know that there are some ecologically friendly options here on campus.