The Next Peak


Good Eats

Director of Dining Services Richard Maxwell on what it takes to make a more sustainable food operation. 
Thacher's Dining Hall has made major strides in recent years toward becoming more environmentally sustainable. The milk served is organic, the chicken is organic and free-range, the eggs are humanely raised (sometimes right here on campus through our chicken program), and seafood is sourced from sustainable fisheries. Around 60 percent of our produce comes from local farms during peak growing season. And waste has been drastically cut thanks to our compost, recycling, and hog programs. Below, Richard Maxwell shares his thoughts on the evolution of these initiatives—and what he's excited to do next. 

How long would you say the Dining Hall has been working really seriously on making sustainable sourcing and waste reduction a priority?

We have been sourcing sustainable local produce, mostly from BD Dautch's Earthtrine Farm, since 2003. What is great is that Bon Appétit is a food service pioneer in environmentally sound sourcing policies. They've developed programs in the last 20 years addressing local purchasing, overuse of antibiotics, sustainable seafood, the food-climate change connection, humanely raised meat and eggs, and farm worker's rights. This has made it easier for us to source the right products for working towards a sustainable future. Our major distributors know our policies and have modified what they stock to meet our standards.
What's the process like for collaborating with other people and groups on campus to make the sustainability initiatives a reality?

Most of the time an individual or group will approach me with their idea and then Chef Ismael and I will sit down and figure out how we can make it happen. Often it involves working with the Facilities Department. They support us in many ways. It's a fun process and usually, in the end, is fairly easy to get the initiatives rolling.

Others have told us that you've been really open, passionate, and can-do about making the Dining Hall more sustainable. What do you find exciting and inspiring about this work?

I am inspired because it's the right thing to do. I am still hopeful that we can reverse some of the damage that has been done to our planet. I want us to leave both our local and our global environments healthier for my three children and for the generations to come. I am so lucky to work on a campus that is working towards the same goal!

What are some of the challenges that you've faced in sourcing more local, organic, and sustainably produced food? In reducing waste?

In the past the biggest challenge was financial. In the last few years, though, with the generous grant from a Thacher family, we have been able to buy more organic, locally sourced, and sustainably produced ingredients.

There are two main challenges with reducing waste. One is when there is a lack of advance communication when a group is going to miss a meal, especially Formal Dinner. We are supposed to be notified 24 hours in advance so that we can cut back production. When this doesn't happen, it can be too late to make much of a reduction. The academic schedule in regard to lunch is another challenge. The bulk of the students all have to come in at the same time. This means we have to make a lot of food at once so that it will be ready for them during their short window. This can lead to overproduction. If people were able to come in at a more staggered pace, we could prepare some of the food as we need it rather than nearly all at once in advance of a busy rush.

What's one of the initiatives that you're most proud of? What's next that you're excited about?

I'm most proud of the relationship we have with Ojai farmer BD Dautch. I really enjoy stopping by his farm twice a week and seeing first-hand the love and care he and his team put into growing the organic fruits and vegetables that end up on the plates here at Thacher. I am also stoked to know that the seafood we serve follows the guidelines of The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

I am excited about the new dining hall and kitchen that will hopefully be finished in two years!

Learn more about Thacher’s plan to ensure environmental sustainability and source more organic, local food
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