Although trends and movements in the U.S. are said to start at the coasts and make their way inland, one Midwest university is a leader when it comes to health, sustainability and local ingredients in its foodservice programs.

The University of Kansas, Lawrence started its push six years ago, when it merged retail and foodservice dining operations, creating KU Dining Services as a stronger presence on campus. Since then, the university has continued to make changes, including using local products on the menu.

Local sourcing is part of a bigger university goal to reduce its carbon footprint, said Nona Golledge, director of KU Dining Services. Golledge is also president-elect of the National Association of College & University Food Services.

“We’re a big user of resources, so we’ve committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” Golledge said.

KU Dining Services feeds more than 10,000 students and faculty per day through 22 foodservice outlets, including four residential dining halls, four retail cafes, seven snack bars, five coffee houses, one full-service restaurant, catering and its athlete tray table program.

The campus’ Better Bites program for healthier eating has been around a decade, but the university as a whole is trying to encourage wellness in recent years, not only with food, Golledge said.

“There’s always been a small population of students interested in healthier items, but there’s always been a small population not interested,” Golledge said. “The group that’s more health conscious has expanded. I have seen a slight shift in interest in wellness.”

Snack stations at KU have more healthful snack items, including grapes, vegetable sticks and salads, Golledge said.

“We’re creating signage to highlight these items, hopefully to encourage students to make those selections on a more frequent basis,” Golledge said. “We’re tracking if that percentage is going up.”

The university has been renovating dining facilities. Fresh ingredients are especially prevalent in dishes created at stations where food is cooked in from of them.

KU doesn’t seem to be short on talented foodservice staff — its executive chef and another staff member were recognized by the National Association of College & University Food Services this year for vegan and vegetarian dishes.

“A lot of it is about education and awareness of healthier options for students when they’re not only eating in our facilities, but out in the world,” Golledge said. “In doing this we had a lot of policies and procedures to work out, and also facility enhancements we worked on prior to these goals.”

To promote its local program, the university had a farm-to-fork event this year, and invited local growers and representatives from businesses including Sysco Kansas City to host educational booths and talk to students about their products. KU is in its second year working with Sysco to source local produce through its connection with Good Natured Family Farms, a network of more than 150 family farms within 200 miles of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Golledge said at the end of last year, Dining Services worked with Diana Endicott, founder and current director of the network, to maximize local sourcing for the 2010-11 school year.

“She suggested we focus on a couple items first, since we are so large,” Golledge said. “We chose cucumbers and tomatoes, so last December, we provided farms in Rich Hill, Mo., with what we needed, and they planned that into their farming production.”

Although seasons for many Kansas and Missouri commodities are only weeks long, KU has a farm cart in its retail café year-round. What is filled with vegetables, apples and even berries in the summer months, when campus traffic is at a minimum, is kept afloat with local coffee, popcorn and other shelf-stable items through the school year.

Chefs in the university’s full-service restaurant use ingredients grown on the roof of the campus’ Union in a rooftop garden that was started three seasons ago, Golledge said. By 2010, what started out as an herb garden has tripled in size and includes tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. Most of the ingredients are used at the full-service restaurant or in the university’s catering department.

“That has been a really fun program for the chefs,” Golledge said.

For the first time this year, the school purchased watermelon and tomatoes at the end of the season from local growers and froze it for use in watermelon lemonade, soups and sauces.