A trio of Environmental Planning Workshop students presented “The Quest for (B)eph: Sourcing Beef from Local Farms” on December 10 at Log Lunch. The presentation culminated their semester-long project for ENVI 302, in which they developed a potential plan for Williams to source some of its beef from farms around western Massachusetts, eastern New York, and southern Vermont.
Lyza Berg ‘21.5, Huijun Huang ‘22, and Quincy Powers ‘22 worked on this project for Williams Dining Services Director Temesgen A. Araya to figure out “how to get local beef from farms, to slaughterhouses, to processing, to distribution, to storage, and finally, to students’ plates.” They identified four main goals, including determining the feasibility of meeting Williams’ beef demand, addressing the logistical complexities of transition, building a comprehensive and equitable plan and potential timeline, and engaging with the College’s Strategic Plan to meet the College’s sustainability pillars.
The farm-to-table process is logistically complex and requires an intimate understanding of the beef and dairy industry, including its best practices, animal treatment, land use, and supply chain, as well as Williams’ purchasing and consumption patterns. The team formed a solid foundation to understand the context and challenges of local beef production by researching the history of agriculture in the Berkshires and comparable plans from peer institutions, and interviewing farmers and dining staff to learn about their industries.
Over the semester, the team visited six farms and spoke with local farmers to gauge the potential for a fully-integrated farm, slaughter/processing, distribution, and consumer plan to support some of Williams’ beef consumption, which may require sourcing from several different farms to meet current beef demands. The team noted that Williams currently purchases an estimated 35,000 pounds of ground beef and 8,600 pounds of hamburger per year, much of it halal. This would translate to up to 100 cows worth of meat for those cuts, which surpasses the capacity of any local beef or dairy operator. They found that local dairy farms are more numerous and have larger herds than beef operations, and that cows from dairy farms are also an essential source of beef once they are no longer capable of supporting the dairy farm.
Berg, Huang, and Powers emphasized their commitment to sourcing from farms that practice regenerative cattle farming, which is “designed to improve air and water quality, increase biodiversity, and sequester carbon in the soil” by way of pasture grazing, manure fertilization, farm-grown hay feeding, and diverse pastures for pollinator regeneration. Sourcing locally also aligns with the Williams Strategic Plan by engaging the pillars of academic excellence, campus engagement, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility.
The team identified logistical problems with a local beef operation, including the absence of USDA-certified slaughterhouses in the Berkshires and lack of refrigeration infrastructure during transportation and on-campus. Ultimately, the group recommended focusing on sourcing ground beef from local farms and developing a staggered timeline that allows farmers to slowly and sustainably scale up their operations year by year to meet Williams’ needs. Their suggested timeline would see a pilot program in summer/fall 2023 to showcase local beef at special events, developing contracts and helping farmers scale up between fall 2023 and spring 2025, and then partial implementation of local beef in Williams Dining after fall 2025. The team also identified several potential partners across every aspect of the production, distribution, transportation, and storage process.
By sourcing beef locally, they said, Williams Dining can support local farmers and nurture a resilient local economy, preserve existing agricultural land from development, decrease carbon emissions associated with slaughterhouse and package travel, offer affordable and high-quality beef options, connect students to their food, and minimize financial support of commercial beef operations. The group’s final report and presentation are available for viewing at https://ces.williams.edu/environmental-planning-papers/.
Despite the meaty topic at hand, the Log Lunch remained vegetarian as always, with the kitchen team cooking up a lunch of warm potato soup accompanied by an acorn squash arugula salad, and sea salt and herb dinner rolls. The meal was followed by chocolate peppermint brownies. The potatoes, acorn squash, shallots, and leeks were sourced from local farms.
BY SABRINE BRISMEUR ‘22.5
Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.