New tomato sauce sparks interest in locally grown Tufts Dining offerings

Local sauce producer FATBOY Marinade will supply a total of 18,000 gallons of sauce to Tufts dining halls by the end of the academic year. Goldlocki via Wikimedia Commons

As part of Tufts’ efforts to reduce its environmental impact, the dining halls have added various local foods to their menus. Beginning this semester, these culinary additions and substitutions include locally produced tomato sauce.

“We’ve really enjoyed this resurgence of trying to revitalize the regional food system,” Patti Klos, director of Dining and Business Services, said. “We developed a strategic plan back in the early ’90s. Back then we called it ‘environment stewardship,’ [but] now we tend to refer to it as sustainability.”

Karl Dias, the founder of local sauce producer FATBOY Marinade, entered into contracts with Tufts and Harvard University in September to supply all the sauces in the dining halls, totaling about 18,000 gallons of all-local sauce by the end of the academic year, according to an story on Oct. 8. Dias said he first got involved with Tufts through Julie Lampie, Tufts’ nutrition marketing specialist.

Julie [Lampie] had introduced me to Simca Horwitz — she works with the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture,” Dias said. “They have a program called Farm to School, where they seek to align local producers with institutions like Tufts University and Harvard University and so on. [Lampie] invited me to meet with Simca and…brainstorm with her about things that we could do, and I had just observed from visiting farmers that the tomatoes were being underutilized.”

In order to get the tomatoes he needs, Dias must be in contact with a variety of people who are involved with the steps that occur prior to the sauce’s actual preparation.

“We’re a one-man show,” he said. “The way that this works is I have a number of contractors or processors that I work with. For example, there’s a company called Boston Fresh that actually processes the tomatoes for me; they have a staff of 24. I contract with another gentleman that’s called a co-packer — that’s an industry term for someone who manufactures products for other companies. He has a staff of about half a dozen. So I coordinate and have these relationships with these organizations or companies that get me to the endpoint where I’m able to produce this product.”

Though Dias produces sauce for both Tufts and Harvard, he has a somewhat different recipe for each.

“Harvard has a sauce that is a little thinner, versus Tufts has one that’s…a little thicker with more herbal notes,” Dias said.

In order to determine the recipe that best suited each university, he conducted taste testing with the dining staff. According to Dias, it took three or four iterations to find the ideal match for Tufts.

Lampie also noted that this new tomato sauce is more nutritious than the one previously served at Tufts, which came from Red Gold, Inc., a larger company based in Indiana, mentioning that the new sauce also has 50 percent less sodium than the previous one.

“[The new tomato sauce] has no high-fructose corn syrup, which the previous one did,” she said. “And we did hear from a number of students in past years that they didn’t like that it contained high-fructose corn syrup.”

The transition from Red Gold to FATBOY was not without its challenges. Last year, Tufts did not receive any tomato sauce since FATBOY had underestimated its yield, according to Klos.

“This year [Dias] had worked out all the specifics and was able to provide [for] Harvard and Tufts,” Lampie said. “We had committed to 4,000 gallons, so it’s a risk we took.”

According to Klos, the dining halls did not always offer as many local foods due to the limitations of local farms.

“For a number of years, to the extent that there were farms that could provide us with things, it was mostly fruit,” Klos said. “There weren’t as many farms that could provide other kinds of vegetables.”

However, Klos explained that the advent of new agricultural techniques is starting to change this in the Northeast, allowing farms to continue producing food into the colder months. She cited an Oct. 21 Boston Globe article that discussed the different ways that local farmers have worked to extend the farming season.

According to the article, large greenhouses with two layers of plastic membranes allow farmers to grow crops like microgreens, kale and spinach.

“A big jump in the number of winter farmers markets — some 47 projected for the coming season, compared to none just eight years ago — has been accompanied by a rapid increase in the amount of crops and livestock raised under the plastic sheets of the modern greenhouse,” the article said.

Klos acknowledged that while the current levels of production at these smaller farms cannot meet the needs of the whole university, the change is a step in the right direction.

“[These farms would not] necessarily…be a pipeline for dining, for the quantity that we use, but that [transition] to me would be a very promising change,” she said “We try to maximize the amount of local produce that we purchase and source … So when this opportunity came forth regarding the marinara sauce, it was a great opportunity to utilize Massachusetts-grown tomatoes in a processed product, which we use a lot of — close to 4,000 gallons…annually.”

Tomato sauce is not the only local food that Tufts has introduced in its dining halls. According to Lampie, students have had the opportunity to enjoy locally sourced Asian greens like mustard greens and sweet potato greens this past fall.

“We’ve been able to expose students to some unique greens, which tend to be some of the healthiest vegetables that are available; many of us haven’t even tried them,” she said. “[The greens] are sourced from a program that’s affiliated with Tufts. It’s called the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project; it’s affiliated with the Friedman School of Nutrition. It is a program for new farmers, where they teach and support…anyone who basically is interested in farming … We were able to source the greens every week from the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and we’ve had a long-standing program with them.”

Tina Woolston, program director for the Office of Sustainability, attested to the positive impact being made by these sustainability initiatives in dining.

“I think…around 90 to 97 percent of the energy in…commercial agriculture comes from fossil fuels,” she said. “Most people don’t realize that a lot of the energy that you get out food…comes from fossil fuels to begin with … [Often], local farms, or organic farms, will not use commercial fertilizer, but they’ll use something like manure or compost or other natural methods; they won’t be using as many fossil fuels. And fossil fuels of course are an issue because they’re…increasing the greenhouse effect.”

“[Tufts Dining is] very progressive, just in terms of Tufts departments,” Woolston continued. “The Director of Dining, Patti Klos, is very engaged in sustainability. She’s been doing sustainability initiatives for decades — they started composting like 15 years ago…[and] they’ve done energy audits of their equipment and looked at how [it] is being used.”

She also noted that sustainable farming is beneficial to workers’ health.

“They’re not always necessarily certified organic, but they can have organic practices that are safer for the workers,” she said. “You can imagine if you’re working on a commercial farm and you’re spraying pesticides and herbicides, you’re inhaling all that stuff and it’s carcinogenic and can cause all sorts of health problems…I think this is something that people don’t realize about organic food, [that] actually one of the biggest impacts it has is on the workers’ health and wellbeing, so that’s a great reason to buy organic.”