Stanford Dining selects new Sustainable Food Program Manager

Feb. 25, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

While managing compost and waste reduction might not seem like an ideal career for many people, for Stanford Dining’s new Sustainable Food Program Manager Dara Olmstead it’s a “dream job.”

Olmstead previously served as the director of Harvard’s Food Literacy Project and wrote a blog for The Boston Globe about environmental sustainability. She is the fourth person to hold the Sustainable Food Program Manager position, which was created in 2006 by a group of student interns.

According to Erin Gaines ’07, one of the interns who proposed the Sustainable Food Program Manager position, sustainability initiatives used to be primarily directed by students. Although the students were largely enthusiastic about their work, they struggled to balance some of their larger projects with academic commitments.

“What we realized is that students can’t really manage all of those initiatives,” Gaines said. “People get excited during the middle of the quarter, and then you get stressed out at the end and leave for break and nobody really maintains things.”

The first Sustainable Food Program Manager was Emmett Hopkins ’05 M.S. ’06. Gaines, who said she took the job in hopes of “making a much larger impact than I had made as a student,” succeeded Hopkins.

“As a student you are always very passionate about things, but you have a bazillion things going on,” Gaines said. “I thought it would be really exciting to use all of the knowledge and experience I had but to be able to work on these things full time.”

As Sustainable Food Program Manager, Gaines said that she focused on examining where food was purchased, how it was grown and how Stanford could produce more of its own food on campus, as well as educating the student body about sustainability initiatives.

Gaines held the job for two years before turning it over to Matt Rothe MBA ’07. Rothe was named a finalist in the 2011 Real Food Challenge for his efforts to establish sustainable food policies at Stanford, including reducing waste from dining halls and purchasing more organic food. In 2012, Rothe left to become a fellow at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

After moving to Palo Alto last year when her fiancé was hired by Apple, Olmstead worked at a non-profit engineering education company. She heard that Stanford was hiring a new Sustainable Food Program Manager when friends from Harvard sent her the job posting.

“I’ve always been well aware of what Stanford was doing and impressed by the dining program here,” Olmstead wrote in a statement to The Daily. “I love being in a university environment, and I can’t think of a more unique and inspiring environment than Stanford.”

According to Olmstead, her four main responsibilities will be purchasing and reporting “fair” food; working on education and outreach; improving sustainability in operations and collaborating with community and student groups to create new goals and involve them in programs.

During her first month at Stanford, Olmstead has focused on internal operations and forming connections in the Stanford community, including meeting with several student groups and general managers at various dining halls to discuss sustainability initiatives.

According to ASSU Senator Janhavi Vartak ’15, Olmstead hopes to collaborate with the Senate in hiring a new student intern next year.

“Working with students is one of the main reasons I was attracted to this position and is one of the core areas of responsibilities,” Olmstead wrote.

In the short run, Olmstead will work on reducing food waste and hosting classes with dining hall chefs. Olmstead cited two of Residential & Dining Enterprises’ (R&DE) sustainability goals — doubling sustainable purchases and achieving 100 percent transparency on purchases by 2015 — as long-term projects.

“I’m really thankful that R&DE is fully committed to sustainability,” Olmstead wrote. “It’s important to me to work somewhere where sustainability is supported by the leadership team and part of the core mission.”

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