InFocus: Local foods in spotlight

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Photo by Hannah Hunsinger.

By Gabrielle Fitzgerald

The Sustainability Expo and Dinner took place from 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 8 in the college’s Regnier Center.

“There was something like 12 to 15 vendors…four or five farmers and then you have people who take local products…and make sauces and salsas or whatever with them,” said Jay Antle, executive director of the sustainability department.

The vendors had a variety of goods for people to sample, including toffee and wine.

“We also had a few groups, such as Good Natured Family Farms, which is a distribution network for local producers,” Antle said. “You also had Our Local Food Kaw Valley…who is trying to create a local food shed along the Kaw River and trying to connect together farmers and markets.”

Directly following the expo was a ticketed dinner including a five-course meal made with only locally grown foods. All foods were chosen by dining services executive chef Tim Johnson. Each course was paired with a wine from Louisburg’s Somerset Ridge Vineyard. The dishes included carrot brûlée, bison sliders, chicken breast and berry gelato.

“Four years ago when we started this expo and this dinner, the main purpose was to educate our community and our campus about sustainability,” Johnson said. “Over the last three years I think we’ve done that. This year we wanted to enjoy it a little bit more and experience the lovely food we can get around this community.”

Not only did the dinner benefit the community by raising awareness of local foods, it was profitable for the students as well.

“The point of the expo is to allow people who bought tickets to the dinner, as well as the student population on campus, visit with the farmers, taste their products,” said Kim Criner, sustainability student affairs coordinator.

“This particular year we can also celebrate our own campus farm, and some of the food that was served at the dinner was in fact grown on our campus farm by our own students,” said Antle.

Criner said the event is also a fundraiser for the Student Environmental Association (SEA). Besides raising money for the SEA, the event promotes eating local foods as a way to a more sustainable lifestyle.

“Sustainability is a really integral part of eating local,” she said. “Your food is coming from nearby so you’re not having to worry about fossil fuels from transporting it across states, refrigeration for all that time.”

“If you have local growers who are growing fruits and vegetables, particularly using less chemically intrusive methods, that is a more sustainable kind of farming because you don’t have all those fossil fuel inputs…It’s in some ways going back to an older way of farming,” Antle said.

Criner said the turnout was “pretty good,” though Antle said that because the economy’s tight, they didn’t get quite as many people as they would have liked to have. A few of the guests included Timothy Bryan from Isle of Capri Casino, where they incorporate local food into the menu, and Mike Lane, director of program sales for Sysco, a distribution network for local growers.

“The people who were there had a great time, we raised some money for the students, and people got to talk about food; that’s really what this event’s all about,” said Antle.

Contact Gabrielle Fitzgerald, reporting correspondent, at gfitzge1@stumail.jccc.edu.

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