(Photos by Becky Phillips, WSU Today)

Imagine a pizza with crust so soft that it almost melts in your mouth. Add to that the fragrance of creamy mozzarella, sizzling red onions and sausage.

There’s something new on the menu at the Hillside Café, and it’s a far cry from the tough, chewy products once associated with whole wheat.

Brett Line, Dining Services cook lead, prepares whole wheat pizzas at Hillside Cafe.

As part of a university-wide initiative promoting environmental sustainability practices, WSU Dining Services has taken great strides in incorporating locally grown meat and produce in all of their campus kitchens. One of the newest additions to their menu is Palouse-grown whole wheat crust pizza. 

Doug Murray, associate director and executive chef of Dining Services, said that in blind taste tests this spring, students could not discern any difference between the whole wheat crusts and regular white crust. “Since there are nutritional benefits to whole wheat — such as higher fiber content — we decided to go ahead and start using it.”

Brett Line inspects a pizza oven.

There are benefits, too, for the local economy. All of the 38,000 pounds of flour used by Dining Services now comes from Shepherd’s Grain, a cooperative of Palouse area farmers, all certified by the Food Alliance as running sustainable, socially responsible farms. See online @ www.shepherdsgrain.com.

Shepherd’s Grain farmers — who, by the way, are almost all WSU alumni — follow “no-till” or direct seeding techniques which eliminate hours of plowing and help preserve top soil from erosion. In addition, the practice lowers fuel costs and enhances water retention up to 25 feet in the soil. It also protects soil microbes which can lessen dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers.
 

Vonnie Kibbee, Dining Service cook lead, serves whole wheat pizza.

Dining Services has established a wide range of relationships with other local food supply entities including the Hearth Bread Bakehouse in Spokane which is the primary bread supplier for WSU.
 
“Since it was our desire to only use flour from Shepherd’s Grain, Hearth Bread decided to switch to that flour exclusively and has since gained certification from the Food Alliance. Reportedly, this added value has drawn customers to them and helped their business grow,” said Murray.

In addition to locally grown wheat, Shepherd’s Grain also provides WSU with lentils, black beans and garbanzo beans. As for other products, Murray strives to purchase only beef and chicken raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Students line up to try the new pizza.

All of the potatoes used at WSU are grown and processed in Washington and all dairy products are purchased from a Washington dairy farmer coop. Whenever possible, Murray tries to buy seasonal local produce. A couple years ago, Dining Services switched to all trans-fat free cooking oils.  They also began using Fair Trade and shade grown coffee beans.

“One of our dreams,” said Murray, “is that … through our efforts … the students will realize their role and responsibility as consumers. If they realize their purchasing power can have a beneficial effect, we feel we have added to the educational mission of the university.”