Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on Food For Thought

I recently wrote about the Food For Thought curriculum at Kenyon College, as I was fascinated and delighted that a top liberal arts college would build a whole academic sequence exploring the value of local, sustainable food production. When her dad and I delivered our daughter there last Thursday and ate lunch in one of the cafeterias, I noticed Food For Thought signs around the serving area, encouraging all who eat there to think about where their food comes from and who produces it. The college has been buying at least some of their produce from local providers since 2004. I found more about the program's outreach to the entire college community on their website:
Kenyon’s efforts to educate about food do not stop at the classroom door. Working with the College’s dining service, AVI Foodsystems, Food for Thought has begun to turn the cafeteria into a classroom with materials about food and local rural life. Signs at food stations highlight local ingredients in menu selections. Tabletop displays, many created by students in conjunction with their coursework, explore the history of agriculture in Knox County, offer biographies of local food producers, and examine the nutritional value of the foods we eat. Plans are underway for a series of student-produced films on local agriculture, to be shown in the dining hall on a large-screen monitor.
I'll continue to follow this program with interest, and to be equally interested in what our local colleges are doing along these lines. I know that St. Olaf has the STOGROW farm, and that the Bon Appetit food service buys much of the farm's produce for use in the dining hall there. There is a nice discussion of Bon Appetit's contributions to sustainability at St. Olaf in this report.

Carleton has its Farm Club Organic Gardens, and their site says they have sold produce to the food service providers in the past. In conversation with a Carleton faculty member not long ago, I was given to understand that Carleton's current food service provider, Sodexho-Marriott, is not set up to easily allow individual sites to support local food producers. I understand the economic benefits of contracting with large suppliers, but I hope they'll find a way to build in some flexibility in that regard. There is more information about food and sustainability at Carleton in this report, which notes that "an emphasis is being put on purchasing from Food Alliance certified farms in the Midwest" but acknowledges that as of the date of the report, that proportion is less than 2% of the food budget.

Academically speaking, I see that in Carleton's biology department, David Hougen-Eitzman -- who with his wife, Laurie, operates the Big Woods Farm CSA in Nerstrand -- teaches a seminar on sustainable agriculture. At St. Olaf, student research on agricultural practices has been put to use by farmers who rent St. Olaf land, and incorporated into biology and environmental studies classes, according to their Natural Lands webpage.

It's good to see the interaction between these institutions of higher learning, which are not land-grant universities offering standard programs in agriculture, and the status of our food and our local farms.

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