Elon Dining showcases local connections at Welcome Back Celebration

Elon Dining and campus dining provider Harvest Table Culinary Group hosted the Welcome Back Celebration to showcase the local vendors, meal plans and resources Elon Dining has to offer.

An Elon student receives a sample from the Pelican's SnoBalls station at Elon Dining's Welcome Back Celebration. 

A wide variety of food and drink was on display at Lakeside Plaza Thursday as Elon Dining Services welcomed students back to campus for the 2019-20 academic year.

Elon Dining and campus dining provider Harvest Table Culinary Group hosted the Welcome Back Celebration to give students, faculty and staff a chance to explore some of the campus’ local vendors and learn about the meal plans and resources Elon Dining has to offer. The celebration also gave Elon Dining the chance to show what it's been cooking up over the summer. 

"We did a lot of recipe development, and we changed some concepts on campus," said Jay Vetter, executive chef of Elon Dining and Harvest Table. 

Vetter says the group has changed the pizza options at Winter Garden Market to a build-your-own flatbread concept, Lakeside Dining Hall is soliciting family recipes from the Elon community to revamp its international theme, the Acorn Coffee Shop has a refreshed look, and the campus is partnering with new vendors, like Florida-based Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co., for the new school year.

"We partner with some amazing groups that share our culinary commitment to all-natural, made from scratch, healthy food, and they're all here to help support us and the Elon community," Vetter said.  

Harvest Table is a division of Aramark focused on making a local impact. That includes using local ingredients as well as making connections to the community. 

A representative from Carolina Culture describes the vendor's products to an Elon student. 
​Those community connections include Elon’s contract with Farmer Foodshare, which is a major provider of fresh produce for the campus. Farmer Foodshare sources products from North Carolina farmers, focusing on connecting small farmers – especially farmers of color, women or new farmers – with large accounts like Elon Dining. The money made from the accounts is subsidized to help Durham Public Schools, food pantries and community groups buy produce. Organizers say they’re impressed with Elon students who already understand the importance of these local connections.

"Students are more aware of what local food can do not just for them, but for the farmers," said Whitney Sewell, community outreach and program manager of Farmer Foodshare. "When you put money back into the local economy, that really does support the university being healthy and happy. It's a wholistic concept from the economy to who's putting that food on your plate." 

Maple View Farm's County Line Creamery is another example of Elon Dining and Harvest Table’s local connections. Maple View, a dairy farm based in Hillsborough, North Carolina, can be found in dining halls and the Acorn Coffee Shop. At Thursday’s Welcome Back Celebration, Maple View offered samples of their ice cream, including "The Phoenix," a vanilla-based ice cream blended with chocolate syrup, peanuts and Snickers pieces.

"We're so blessed that Elon has chosen us because it gets our name out there, being that we're a family owned business, and we're one of the few dairy farms left in the state," said Stephanie Barts, store manager for Maple View's County Line Creamery shop in Gibsonville. "So, it's really important to us that the Elon community knows who we are and just backs us." 

​For students, Elon’s commitment to local products helps make the dining experience more meaningful.

“That’s so important to me, especially since I’m from a small town,” said Payton Robinson ’23. “I’ve grown up with that local support, so I think it’s awesome that they have that here too.”

Several other local vendors attended Thursday’s celebration. The group included:

"All around there are small local businesses that are doing amazing things," Vetter said. "Think about the population we have here on campus. We can change someone's whole business model by getting the students to kind of embrace their brand."

Along with exciting vendors and new concepts, Elon Dining has also introduced a new sustainability program. Students who purchase meal plans will now have access to free, reusable to-go containers to carry their meals out of Elon’s dining halls. Students can return their container for washing and pick up a clean container at the dining hall of their choice. The goal is to reduce waste and promote positive environmental practices on campus. 

"The idea of getting students used to bringing their reusable to-go containers to a dining hall, a grocery store or fast food place, that's really important," said Elon Dining Sustainability Coordinator Caroline Redick. "So that's been amazing to start those habits early and be a supportive environment for that." 

The importance of sustainability has not been lost on Elon student Sophia Diaz '20.

"I think everyone's individual choices, whatever they can do as far as their budget or culturally, as much as you can do to help the environment on your own terms is really impactful,” she said. “Because there are nearly eight billion people in the world. Everyone can make a difference."

In the end, the sustainable choices, local connections and new concepts are what Elon Dining and Harvest Table hope set the Elon dining experience apart. 

"I think what we're doing – I think we're going to change what used to be considered institutional dining,” Vetter said.