As part of UK campus food deal, Aramark puts up $5 million for Food Connection, vows to purchase Kentucky products

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The University of Kentucky has entered a $5 million public-private partnership designed to promote the study and research of food at UK and to promote local food in the state.

L-R: Aramark President and CEO Eric Foss, UK President Eli
Capilouto. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer; 
College of
Agriculture, Food & Environment Dean Nancy Cox (UK photo)

UK President Eli Capilouto called the Food Connection an “unprecedented public-private partnership” between the university and food-service giant Aramark, which is putting up the money and getting the campus food contract. It will be housed in UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Capilouto said the partnership is in various stages of development, including improving facilities, adding high-quality, healthy food options, and providing a greater commitment to Kentucky farmers.

“This partnership is more than just brick and mortar, it’s more than simply menus and venues. It’s about people,” Capilouto said, including learning and research for students.

The Food Connection will partner with the state Department of Agriculture, farmers, community partners, and consumers to enhance the production, distribution, and consumption of local products and those with the Kentucky Proud label.

Aramark’s $5 million includes $1 million to endow undergraduate and graduate internships and fellowships, $250,000 in one-time start-up costs for equipment and programmatic needs, and $250,000 a year for 15 years for staff, programming, research grants, and other initiatives.

“Our goal is to make sure that we create a sustainable, healthy and a successful food economy here in Kentucky for generations to come,” Aramark CEO Eric Foss said.

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said, “This project today is going to have a significant impact on the agriculture economy in Kentucky.”

UK will break ground next week on the space designated for the Food Connection facility, near the library where some old fraternity houses have been demolished.

Scott Smith, former dean of the College of Agriculture, will be the interim faculty director of the Food Connection. Dean Nancy Cox said that while the “vision and framework is in place” for the Food Connection related to research opportunities, “This new chapter is yet to be written on exactly what we do at the Connection.”

A UK press release said the Food Connection will have programming, such as an annual Kentucky food summit and programs for youth.

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