What works

LOCAL GROWERS COMPETE IN COLLEGE CAFETERIAS

It used to be a source of frustration in small towns in western and central Massachusetts that the contract for school milk would go to out-of-town dairies because the cost was lower. But over the past five years, Dining Services at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst (where I teach) has managed to overcome the obstacles and has quietly become a leader in buying locally produced food products. What’s more, it is finding that the costs of local products are competitive.

In 2002, Dining Services inserted a clause in its vendor contract that allows the university to set a goal for the percentage of food that comes from local sources. The department now buys about 22 percent of its produce locally, up from 15 percent in 2005, says director Ken Toong, and he’s shooting for 25 percent next year.

Dining Services, which provides about 5 million meals a year, now injects about $450,000 each year into the local agricultural economy. “This is no small task considering the size of the student population and the growing seasons in New England,” Toong says.

Toong is working with the other four colleges in the region — Smith College, Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke — to increase support for local farms.

UMass buys its produce from the Czajkowski farm in nearby Hadley, located one mile from campus. Owner Joe Czajkowski coordinates with about a dozen other farmers to guarantee supply and consistency.

Toong says local food products — such as eggs, milk, jam, and even the beef served at the Faculty Club — are cost-competitive with national distributors, and the food is fresher. Dishes served in the dining commons feature cards that list the meal’s pedigree, and Toong says students appreciate it.

Others are noticing as well: UMass Dining Services received an environmental award from the state in 2006 for its sustainability efforts.

A NEW START FOR FOSTER CARE KIDS

If you have an 18-year-old in your house, then you have probably heard the news: Once you turn 18, you can do whatever you want. But for a young person in the foster care system, that milestone is often the gateway into a life of troubles. About 25,000 people “age out” of foster care each year, and most leave the child welfare system with no family support and few life skills. The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that one in four will be in jail within two years, and one in five will be homeless. Only half of these young people will graduate from high school, and fewer than 3 percent will graduate from college.

The problem is particularly tough in the Bay State because of the high cost of housing. Some kids have ended up in public housing, living next door to seniors, and the resulting culture clash creates its own set of issues.

But in Nashville, Tennessee, two nonprofit agencies combined forces to address the problem. Monroe Harding, which runs programs for at-risk youths, and the Woodbine Community Organization, a housing development organization, built three duplex apartment buildings that now house 14 young people who have a common kitchen and living space. They pay rent according to a sliding income scale, and a Monroe Harding counselor checks in with each resident daily to find out how they’re doing at work or at school.

The combination of secure housing and life-skills support has helped many kids transition successfully into adulthood.

“We’ve had very positive results,” says Melissa Houck, Monroe Harding director of development. “Foster kids are coming in from word of mouth. Other kids in the system tell them: You need to get here, it worked well for me.”

GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT RECYCLING

Faced with a lousy record on local recycling, the town of Smithfield, Rhode Island, took a drastic step: The town refused to pick up the trash of residents who weren’t also putting out their recyclables. Many residents complained, but the plan worked, says recycling coordinator Gina Barbeau. “We had 10 to 15 complaints a day the first week,” she says, “but now no one complains because people realized we’re serious about it.”

The recycling rate in the town of 6,300 households has increased from 20 percent to 25 percent since the program started.

Most Massachusetts towns take a different approach, encouraging residents to recycle by charging them a per-bag fee to pick up their non-recyclable trash. But the city of Boston has seen some improvement in recycling participation with a pilot program that allows single-stream recycling, in which residents toss all recyclables into one bin. It’s now working in two neighborhoods and should be citywide within the next two years. Boston pays $80 per ton to get rid of regular waste but only $22 a ton for plastics, and the city sells waste paper for $40 per ton.

Massachusetts officials estimate that an additional 1.5 million tons of paper could still be removed from the waste stream and sold for more than $30 million. Toward that end, some 160 communities have signed on to the MASS RECYCLES PAPER! campaign, which encourages municipal governments and businesses to recycle more paper. As part of the campaign, 16 communities are planning public “shredding events” this spring, to which residents can bring documents they’d rather not toss into a recycling bin.

Paper recycling has changed a lot in the past decade, says Karen Patterson, who runs the MASS RECYCLES PAPER! program, which operates with donations and a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Many more types of paper products are now recyclable, and the market for used paper is booming.

Patterson estimates that the recycling and reuse industry supports more than 1,400 businesses and 19,000 jobs in the Bay State and generates $64 million annually in state tax revenues.

Much of the paper collected in Massachusetts goes to the Newark Group Recycled Fiber Mill in Fitchburg, where it gets converted into hard covers for books (including the most recent Harry Potter tome), and boards for games like Monopoly, which is manufactured by Hasbro, in East Longmeadow.

THE PARK PLACE OF WORKER SAFETY

Just outside the infirmary at that Hasbro plant is a giant mural of the hapless doctor in the popular children’s game Operation. But the doctor isn’t in quite so often at Hasbro these days, in part because of a program aided by state grants in workforce training and safety.

Hasbro’s safety efforts focus on ergonomics, and the company has an industrial engineer whose job is to look at the repetitive motions in the 1.2 million-square-foot facility and recommend improvements. The company also has 12 ergonomic teams made up of management and union workers, who collaborate year-round on solutions to problems on the factory floor. Last year the teams came up with more than 50 proposals, and the program has been lauded by the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Employees have designed and fabricated custom tools, for example, and they have designed and built custom-angled tables in the game assembly area that can be adjusted to the height and build of each worker. Hasbro employees also get their own safety insoles that mitigate hours of walking on the concrete factory floor. The company has teamed up with physical therapy faculty at nearby American International College to develop the shoe inserts and study their effects.

More recently, the company focused on ergonomic and safety training for older workers, since the company has many workers with 30 to 50 years experience who are still on the job.

Meet the Author
Jack Popp, vice president for technical services at Hasbro’s East Longmeadow plant, says any savings, no matter how small, could mean the difference between the company remaining in the United States or moving operations overseas.

“If we keep our people safe on the job, we reduce our costs,” Popp says. “Every injury saved does support the bottom line.”