Keith Soster - University of Michigan Director of Student Engagement
MFIN Advisory Board Member
For Keith Soster, living in Michigan, the second most diverse state in the country in terms of crops that can be grown, makes implementing a farm to institution program at the University of Michigan an obvious choice. As the Director of Student Engagement in the university’s dining halls, Keith gets to see how students interact with local food systems as he works with them to get more local produce in the cafeterias. For the past two years he has been able to serve as a resource to help passionate students make a change in their community, something about which he is incredibly proud.
Keith is currently working with an environmental club on campus to get vertical gardens implemented in the dining halls, making fresh, local produce a more hands-on experience for the students. But Keith has been working on sourcing local and sustainable food serveral years now.
When it comes to getting local produce in the University of Michigan’s dining halls, making connections is the key for Keith. He first got started with the program after meeting a local farmer, Vicki Zilke, at a Cultivate Michigan conference who now provides the university with various vegetables. In addition to Zilke Farms, Keith works with 3 other farmers including Dale Lesser, who supplies the university with apples. When Keith asked Dale why he enjoys selling the university his apples, Dale pointed out that he was able to sell apples that might not be “grocery store quality” as students would just throw the apples in their backpacks and go, making it so that the apples didn’t need to be flawless in appearance.
While Michigan farmers and suppliers provide Michigan Dining with local fruits, vegetables, honey and more, students and staff are offered the opportunity to purchase healthy, local food to eat at home through a number of weekly farmers markets, coordinated in collaboration with Central Student Government, Office of Campus Sustainability, and MHealthy.
To learn more about University of Michigan Dining and Keith's sustainability and local food efforts, visit their website: http://dining.umich.edu/about-us/sustainability/