EDITOR’S NOTE: We designed our Scion Award for a young person or group of young people who are passionate about sustainability and on the road to becoming eventual leaders on such issues. But this year, none of the nominations we received fit that description precisely. After much discussion among the judges, we changed course and instead awarded a full-grown man who is doing extraordinary work to feed the next generation of Mainers and to teach them about local food, one delicious bite at a time.

It all began with a load of local carrots.

Stewart Smith – a vegetable farmer, former Maine commissioner of agriculture and University of Maine resource economics professor emeritus – approached Glenn Taylor, director of dining services at the University of Maine, in Orono, to ask what it would take for the school to buy carrots from Maine farms.

Taylor was used to contracting with large distributors and had no idea if he could even consider buying local carrots. But the question got his wheels turning. Once he figured out he could, he started wondering how he could bring more local food of all sorts to campus, in season and in amounts large enough to satisfy college-sized appetites.

“If Stew did anything for me, he taught me how to think like a farmer,” Taylor said.

The result? Six years ago, just 10 percent of the University of Maine’s $6.5 million food budget went to local foods. This year, it’s 15 to 17 percent and still climbing, thanks in part to Taylor’s new obsession with finding creative ways to buy from local farmers. His goal is to reach 20 percent by 2020. When the rest of the university dining system, run by food vendor Sodexo, set that goal, so did Taylor, in solidarity. (The Orono campus, with 11,000 students, runs its own food services program.)

And he has managed to do all of this while still balancing the university’s food budget.

Taylor, who is both feeding the next generation and educating them about local food, is the recipient of this year’s Scion Award.

Over the years, Taylor, a resident of Bradley, has used his “think like a farmer” strategy to write menus that reflect what’s in season. Sourcing local proteins has been harder, but he has learned to be creative with his big grocery contracts so he has more money to spend on the local piece. (While serving local food is important, Taylor also worries about expenses, as local food usually costs more. “It isn’t my money to spend, it’s the students’ money,” he said. “I want to do it wisely.”)

This year, for example, the school switched to significantly pricier all-local ground beef for its hamburgers. So he looked for savings elsewhere, seeking out a cheaper chicken tender the university could swap for the one it was then using. After a taste test, Taylor chose a brand that helped him shave a few pennies off each chicken tender, a total annual savings of $7,000 on just that one item.

Taylor is now working on a plan to use local roast beef to fill the university deli meat order. The university goes through 7,000 to 8,000 pounds of roast beef a year. Central Maine Meats in Gardiner, which supplies it, is undergoing USDA scrutiny right now for its cooking process, Taylor said. “If they get that (approval), that will be huge,” he said.

Despite his success with the chicken tenders, Taylor still struggles to supply the other parts of the chicken, and the school goes through a lot of chicken. “When you’re trying to compete nationally against these big chicken companies, it’s so hard to justify three to four times the cost per pound,” he said.

Right now just 7 percent of the chicken served at the University of Maine Orono is local. Taylor hopes that as more schools, hospitals and other institutions in Maine make a commitment to serving local chicken, the price will drop.

In the last few years, there has been a strong push to incorporate more local food into dining halls across the entire University of Maine system, but many of the changes at Orono have been driven by Taylor’s passion for buying local, said Dan Sturrup, executive director of auxiliary services at the University of Maine. “At least 75 percent was Glenn’s” idea, Sturrup said. “We do have a passion for sustainability initiatives, but Glenn could have done a lot less and still achieved what the campus wanted. But he went above and beyond.”

Sturrup said Taylor tries to get good deals for the school, but he also forges lasting relationships with vendors, farmers and the other people and organizations he works with, which Sturrup believes is just as important.

Beyond supply side, Taylor has also helped curtail food waste at Orono by signing off on the counterintuitive idea of an unlimited meal plan, a strategy that has been employed with success at other schools around the country. Some students had been “stocking up” on extra food to ward off possible hunger later in the day and then eventually just throwing that food out. Taylor admits he was skeptical at first, and the idea of hungry athletes taking advantage of what is basically an all-you-can-eat plan “scared me to death.”

“I didn’t understand how we were going to have someone eat all day long, and it was going to lower our food costs,” he said. “But guess what? It worked.”

Turns out that instead of all those football players grabbing six or seven milks at once, they returned to the dining hall later for more only if they were hungry. The strategy meant less food per meal, not more.

Taylor says he is taking the money he has saved by reducing food waste and using it to buy more local foods.

Taylor is always thinking ahead, planning crops with farmers to supply his future needs. In the works: more lettuce from Aroostook County, more red and green bell peppers, more cucumbers. Last year, when a farmer offered to flash freeze corn for him, he bought six cases a week for 30 weeks. In January, he started buying almost 200 pounds a week of undersized shiitake mushrooms that the local grower can’t sell to supermarkets because they aren’t “perfect.”

Next on Taylor’s wish list is a central food hub where institutions that are committed to buying local can pick up their local food in one spot, saving everybody time and money.

“This is not rocket science,” Taylor said. “It’s about believing in something and talking through it and holding true to your commitments. It’s only dirt and seeds, you know. The rest of it is figuring out how to make it work.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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