Students may see a change in their dining hall menus next quarter as an on-campus group attempts to bring more organic produce onto campus.

The UC FOODS campaign, run by the Associated Students Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), urges all University of California campuses to switch from non-organic produce to organic produce. Assistant Director of the Residential Dining Services Bonnie Crouse said UCSB currently purchases 160,000 lbs. of produce per month from Barry Man, Inc. of Santa Barbara. According to their website, Barry Man, Inc. does provide some organic produce, but the majority of its products is not organic. They are currently working to provide more organic produce.

Crouse said UCSB currently spends about $730,000 annually on produce purchases for the dining commons. The contract between Barry Man, Inc. and the university will be up for renegotiations in January of 2005, and UCSB is in the process of re-evaluating its criteria for its produce supplier, Crouse said.

“It’s one of the largest bid contracts,” she said. “It is a three-year contract . . . [and we’re looking at] price and availability.”

UC FOODS Campaign Director Christine Casillas said the group is concerned that non-organic produce could be hazardous to students’ health.

“Non-organic [produce] isn’t healthy,” Casillas said. “There’s water runoff that creates contamination… and [non-organic farming] destroys biodiversity.”

Alisha Dahlstrom, EAB co-chair, said switching to organic produce would cost the university about the same amount of money as non-organic produce and would include new features such as an organic salad bar.

“We’d be the first public university to do this,” she said.

Crouse said several different suppliers will bid on the contract, and the deal would be awarded to whoever offers produce at the lowest price and at a high rate of availability. She said the university does not plan to buy all organic produce because it is virtually impossible to do so.

“The focus is not on organics but local produce,” she said.

Although Barry Man, Inc. is based in Santa Barbara, its website states that some of the produce is shipped in from other places, including Los Angeles.

The Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market, which has about 150 members, is the main alternative provider that both the EAB and UCSB are looking toward, Casillas said.

Tom Shepherd, the farmers’ market president, said members of the association would be able to provide UCSB with all of its produce needs. The group’s membership is composed of smaller farmers, which Shepherd defined as farmers having about 10 employees each and less than 68 acres of land.

But Shepherd said it is difficult to be a small farmer because of the expenses.

“I’ve farmed for 30 years in 20 different locations,” Shepherd said. “I don’t own land, I lease it.”

He also said that the process of becoming certified organic is a long and difficult one, and large non-organic farms have an advantage.

“The certification process discriminates against us,” he said. “Nothing else is labeled and it doesn’t give the consumer the choice.”

Although Shepherd is an organic farmer, he said many of the organization’s farmers do not cultivate organic produce, and not all of the food supplied to the university by the group would be organic.

Shepherd said he was recently awarded the lease to farm on 100 acres of land owned by UCSB, located on the Sedgwick Reserve in the Santa Ynez valley. He said he plans to grow organic produce for UCSB on the land and also provide apprenticeships to students.

Shepherd is also currently leasing land in Carpinteria where he grows organic produce that he hopes to bring to UCSB.

“I can start producing now,” Shepherd said.

Dahlstrom said fresh produce makes up 20 percent of the food found in the dining commons, and it is important to switch to organic products in order to support local farming. She said also the waste could be used to make compost piles for campus grounds as well as for sale to local farmers.