University of Kentucky to seek proposals for privatized dining services

University of Kentucky Dining Services spent about $800,000 last year on Kentucky-grown food products.
University of Kentucky Dining Services spent about $800,000 last year on Kentucky-grown food products. Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky soon will solicit proposals from companies interested in running its campus dining services, but it will expect the companies to continue UK's "strong partnership" with Kentucky food producers, officials said Tuesday.

UK has not decided whether to privatize its dining services, as it privatized its residence halls last year, spokesman Jay Blanton said. However, as the next step in the university's deliberations, it will issue requests for proposals to see what interested companies have to offer, Blanton said. There is no formal deadline in place to make a decision, he said.

"We want to move quickly, but we don't want to move hastily," Blanton said.

A committee of UK faculty, staff and students has recommended that the requests for proposals include three commitments:

■ That current full-time UK dining employees and student workers will have job opportunities with either UK or the selected company.

■ That campus dining services continue a strong sustainability program by buying local food and maintaining UK's partnership with the state Department of Agriculture's Kentucky Proud program.

■ That the dining services add more healthy food choices and other options desired by the university community.

UK dining services spent about $800,000 last year on Kentucky-grown food products, including apples from Reed Valley Orchard, chickens from Pike Valley Farm, and beef and vegetables from farmers all over the state. Spending on Kentucky-grown food is expected to top $1 million this year.

The committee's expressed commitment to local food is a good start, said Lee Meyer, an agricultural economics professor at UK. But the final contract language should include specific requirements for the percentage of food produced in Kentucky, not just processed here, and details on how the food is produced, such as organically, Meyer said.

"We need to put teeth into what that means for it to be valuable for Kentucky farmers in practice," Meyer said.

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