Sodexo UT Tyler takes a fresh look at produce

Updated: Jan 15

Chandler Gibson • Editor-in-Chief

entrance to Swoop N' Go
Image courtesy of Chandler Gibson

Sodexo likes to keep things fresh.

So fresh, as it were, that Sodexo Dining Services at The University of Texas at Tyler is launching a new Farmer’s Market initiative in Spring 2021 on campus in the University Center.

“At my old campus in Louisiana, we did farmers markets every month there … so that students can also use their Dining Dollars,” Sodexo UT Tyler’s Retail Manager, Chandra Jackson said.

Jackson is a 25-year veteran of the food industry, and came to UT Tyler in Feb. after working with Sodexo at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Jackson has over a decade of work experience at Starbucks, and used that experience to turn around an underperforming licensed store, which resulted in her being hired by Sodexo three years ago.

Chandra Jackson sitting at her desk
Image courtesy of Chandler Gibson

“I decided to bring it here as well so it's something the students can engage with, and we can find out what they like and they can also have a healthy option,” Jackson said. “I decided to bring that here so that you guys can have an opportunity to get some fresh fresh food from our local source, Fresh Point.”

This program, a partnership with Sodexo’s newest fresh produce supplier, Fresh Point (a Sysco company from Dallas), will bring bulk produce to campus, which students can buy with their meal plan’s Dining Dollars.

“Squash, zucchini, broccoli, strawberries, bananas, onions, bell peppers, grapes, oranges, apples, all types of fresh produce,” Jackson said. “Blueberries, cauliflower, all kinds of fresh stuff they can use to cook up some great food in their dorm rooms.”

An abridged version of the program was in place until the end of the Fall 2020 semester for students with a surplus of Dining Dollars to be able to spend them on a healthier food option besides fast food or convenience store snacks.

According to Jackson, the market will take place on the third Tuesday of every month.

“The Student Government Association, they have reached out for me to start it earlier than I was going to,” Jackson said. “The students just got an extra couple Dining Dollars. So if you were to go over to the [Swoop-N-Go] now, I have all the fresh produce set up inside of the Simply To-Go cabinet so that they can spend your money there.”

For students who are unaware, the Simply To-Go shelf is the open cooler in the Swoop-N-Go that usually holds sandwiches, salads and some mixed fruit.

The Farmer’s Market program began with a survey, put together by Jackson’s marketing intern, UT Tyler student Elizabeth Newsom. The results of the survey list strawberries, grapes, apples and bananas as the most-requested items, with some very interesting write-in responses.

Full disclosure: I took the survey in the UC one time, and I was the one who requested herbs. Season your food, kids.

What stands out in the write-in requests, at least compared to everything else, is crawfish. The idea of a produce-based market with maybe some other additions, like honey or olive oil is one thing, but the possibility of meat and seafood is another logistical feat.

“Truly we don't have fresh food at the Pantry,” Assistant Director of Student Engagement Camry Tharp said. “It's kind of a weird statement. We don't have fresh produce at the Patriot Pantry, we have mostly dry goods. We do have a refrigerator that SGA donated to the Pantry a few years ago, but we don't have enough people seeking out those items.”

Tharp, along with her current role, is the current director of the Patriot Pantry, a free student resource designated to help students at UT Tyler who may not have a meal plan or another form of reliable food.

“We have to think about things spoiling,” Tharp said. “We don't want to waste anything so having that on hand all the time we're concerned that we may have some go to waste and so I think [Sodexo’s farmer’s market] could actually be a good compliment to what we're doing at the Patriot Pantry.”

Tharp went on to say that the Pantry struggles with publicity, despite being located outside the back door of the Library.

“I got a new student worker this semester and he was super excited to be a part of what's going on,” Tharp said. “We're going to plan some pop up programs to kind of raise awareness of our service in the spring.”

Primarily, they plan on doing a series of tabling events around campus to give out food and turn over some of their inventory, while making students on campus more aware of this free resource.

“There are some things that we are in extreme surplus in the pantry, for example, ramen noodles, that's one of the most common things people donate,” Tharp said with a laugh. “I'm not the biggest fan of ramen noodles but just to make sure that we're not letting anything go to waste.”

a surplus of ramen noodles at the Patriot Pantry
Image courtesy of Chandler Gibson

Waste and awareness are two of the biggest issues facing Tharp and the Patriot Pantry currently. Tharp explained that they regularly receive donations from local churches and other groups, and that partnering with Sodexo and the new Farmer’s Market would not be a conflict, rather, be something that she is interested in.

“The Patriot Pantry for me is about people who have food insecurity and they can just go there and grab them something to eat,” Jackson said of the possible conflict. “The Farmers Market is for the people who want to go grocery shopping but are not able to do so on campus. “Instead of having to go spend your regular money at the grocery stores you all can use your Dining Dollars here with us.”

Campus farmers’ markets are not a new occurrence. For example, The University of Texas at Austin has their own market, twice a month, called the UT Farm Stand. UTFS is housed within the Department of Housing and Dining, and grows most of the produce they sell in two on-campus gardens.

“Through our student-run program, we provide the hands-on knowledge and tools needed to understand sustainable agriculture,” the UTFS mission statement reads in part. “We procure and sell fresh, local produce on campus to provide students and faculty with nutritious and affordable food.”

UTSF also strives to educate on how to reduce food waste by partnering with Plant Waste Studies, a research project at UT Austin. UT Tyler, on the other hand, seems to have only one even remotely-green plan.

“A commitment to continuous improvement efforts toward increased efficiency, a paperless environment, automated processes and reduced costs,” reads the fifth bullet point in the section titled: “Impact Area: Initiate Sustainable Financial Management Strategies” of the UT Tyler Strategic Plan.

The plan was launched in 2018, along with several other success pillars, new logos and a forward-looking hypothetical map of a future UT Tyler expanded campus.

Until then, the Sodexo Farmer’s Market, according to Jackson, will kick into full gear in the Spring 2021 semester.

Follow Sodexo Dining Services on Instagram @sodexouttyler for upcoming information about the market.

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