The Journey: Taking St. Jerome’s University’s Food System to the Next Level

Farm to Campus, Farm to School Farm to School Canada

By Jae Doncillo

You hear it all the time: Vision Matters. 

Vision dictates an organization’s trajectory. It informs the decisions that are made on the ground. It is the basis of why products exist the way that they do and why services are executed the way that they are. Vision is what creates experiences. 

But before visions become realities, there is a natural journey that has to take place.

In Fall 2016, St. Jerome’s University partnered with us, Dana Hospitality LP, with the intention of providing students a food experience centered on 3 pillars:

  • Food Created from scratch rather than pre-ordered
  • Ingredients sourced local to the community and province
  • Fresh and not frozen

In Fall 2018, St. Jerome’s University in partnership with Dana Hospitality, became the first university in Canada to sign onto the Good Food Campus Commitment produced by Meal Exchange. The seven-year commitment lays out four sustainability-based principles by which University Food Services are measured: Ecologically Sound, Humane, Community-Based and Socially Just.

We made this choice with a simple vision in mind: Build a Better Food System for Students.

Roughly a year and a Meal Exchange audit later, we continue to build towards that vision.

Natural alignment between our organizations helped us hit the ground running with the commitment. Capital adjustments, made by St. Jerome’s University, to replace a freezer with a fridge, fit seamlessly with Dana’s focus on fresh and scratch cooking. Over 200L of scratch-made tomato sauce, created from locally grown Elmira tomatoes made its way to the student plate this Fall 2019; fueling the community-based standards we committed to.

No journey is complete without bumps though, and a key learning experience for us was bread.  

While Dana was already sourcing bread from a local supplier in Waterloo, Meal Exchange worked with us to identify that the wheat in the bread was actually grown in BC. As such, it was not as “local” as intended.  

So, we moved the conversation forward with our Waterloo bread supplier and actually found a local grower that grew hard grain wheat within the local community. 

All bread served in St. Jerome’s servery, from toast to grilled cheese, is now Organic Hard Wheat Bread, made with wheat purely grown in Ontario.

We’ve made other adjustments too. 

St. Jerome’s University has historically sourced Fairtrade coffee through its tight partnership with Planet Bean and Café Femenino. To further pursue alignment with Meal Exchange’s standards and St. Jerome’s  vision for ethical purchasing, Dana has begun phasing out non-Fairtrade tea onsite.

Farm to Campus, Farm to School Farm to School CanadaInstead, we now source from Fairtrade tea supplier: Four O’Clock. Students, as part of their AYCE Meal Plan, consume Fairtrade coffee and tea as the default. To further embed this shift, Dana now uses Fairtrade tea as the base to make a variety of scratch-based beverages including Kombucha, which launches this Fall. 

2025, the date by which the campus is committed to procuring at least 20% Good Food, is now only six years away instead of seven. A lot still remains to be done for us all organizationally and the learning curve is steep. There are more choices to make, adjustments to apply and frankly, resources to pour. 

We have learned that building the ideal Food System for students takes not only time and intentionality; it takes accountability and commitment. 

Any large undertaking does. 

However, we are frequently encouraged by our students’ responses to the changes we are making. And while we are eager to see the optimal food system built for students, we’re also learning to appreciate building alongside them.

They are ultimately the reason for why our vision matters. Equally so, they are the reason for why the journey is worth it. 

Jae Doncillo is Dana Hospitality LP’s national lead on Student
Engagement, specializing in Social Media. With a diverse work
background, he has spent stints in a variety of industries including
insurance, law and university and currently works in Food Services. Jae
is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and also a proud alumni of
St. Jerome’s University.




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