This past January, the Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship academic emphasis was added within the Nutrition and Dietetics department at SLU. This emphasis was added after recognizing that many dietetics students wanted to explore career options outside of a clinical setting. Some of those students still wanted to be RD's but they might want to run their own consulting business, own a catering operation, or run a food service operation. So, we have partnered with the Center for Entrepreneurship with Dr. Jerry Katz and are offering a program that allows students to develop their culinary skills and learn about entrepreneurship while focusing on dietetics as their primary field of study.
One of the most exciting areas of growth in food service currently is the development of local, sustainable food systems that are critical if we are ever going to move away from huge, corporate monolithic row crop farms. Specialty grower (fruits and vegetables) do not receive government subsidies in the farm bill yet they are the most likely operations to be owned by families or individuals. Many of these farmers are very good at growing but they are not necessarily great at doing business. To add to their difficulties, there are very few local distributors available to small farmers and even fewer small scale local processors that can turn their raw products into value added products. The farmers have a difficult time moving beyond the model of simply growing for their farmers market booth because the supply chain is still in the nascent stages in virtually all major markets in the US.
Given the need to develop local food supply chains, the course focuses on understanding local food systems, opportunity recognition, and the development of a conceptual business plan. Later in the curriculum, the students will be exposed to a formal, fully developed business plan.
The students will visit a farm, a local food service distributor, a school food service operation, and they will do lab work in a food processing center here at SLU. The students will analyze what products can be sourced locally, determine opportunities within local school system menus, and develop a value added product that will be taste tested in schools. If the product is successful, we will integrate that product into local school lunch programs.
SLU's Food Innovation Center currently processes locally grown produce into value added products for three area school districts: Maplewood-Richmond Heights, St Louis Public Schools, and Normandy. These school districts will purchase a little over 60,000 pounds of processed foods from SLU's Food Innovation Center this year. Students will be able to see current efforts to get local foods into schools and hospitals but it is a work in progress rather than an already existing system. SLU's regional food processing center is the result of a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health and is, to our knowledge, the only local food processing center aimed at supplying area institutions with locally grown produce. The concept has proven successful but now needs to be disseminated throughout the major metropolitan areas of the US.
This class will be run for the first time during the fall 2012 semester and will be a permanent addition to the curriculum.