Harvest of Plenty

Lots going on these days!

The Green Dining Committee held its first meeting of the semester last week, which largely consisted of me bringing everyone up to speed with Dining events from the summer/start of the school year (reusable containers, re-vamped Fine Arts Cafe menu, Taste of Dining, etc) and sharing details about the dizzying array of local food events happening on Grounds and beyond.

For starters, Monticello set the stage for a week chock full of events with a local focus (and flavor!) by hosting the third annual Heritage Harvest Festival at neighboring Montalto this past Saturday. The weather was perfect, the crowd was huge, and the festival was educational and tasty -- all of the organizations supporting sustainable agriculture were out in full force, offering samples, exhibits, and seminars. My friend and I migrated towards the Greenhorns table, where we found ourselves rolling up clay and seeds to make seed balls; they're encouraged for use in your personal garden, or for guerrilla gardening!

Throughout the first part of this week, each dining hall on Grounds hosted a Sustainable Station at dinner that featured an item that was procured with the Green Dining sustainable bulls-eye in mind. On Sunday, Runk had a local burger bar that served Wolf Creek Farms local, free-range and grass-fed beef. O-Hill served Fair Trade Bananas Foster on Monday, and Newcomb served organic Philly Cheese Steaks on Tuesday. Throughout each of these meals, myself or another Dining rep set up shop with the reusable to-go container table and encouraged students to sign up to participate in the program. I'm happy to report that about 100 people are on board at this point.

The Cav Daily published a front page story on the reusable containers yesterday -- read here -- on the same day that their lead editorial was a commentary stating that the containers weren't being pushed hard enough (click here for full editorial). I agree that creative publicity is always something to work on at a University whose students are constantly being bombarded with information, but I hope that the Cav Daily's article (and editorial, for that matter) bring more attention to the containers in the meantime!

I met part of the UVa Campus Kitchens Project leadership team out at Runk on Monday afternoon before my to-go container tabling stint, for a brief tour of the kitchen facilities that they will be using. Campus Kitchens is still waiting for the go-ahead from Madison House, but once they get approval it will only be about two weeks before they move into Runk and begin redistributing Dining leftovers to our local Salvation Army and Hope Community Center. I'm looking forward to having that program up and running.

Speaking of programs that are still down the road, I spent most of yesterday morning out at Morven Farm, a nearly 2000 acre property donated to the UVa Foundation by John Kluge about ten years ago. Morven is a stunning piece of land a few miles past Monticello, and I was fortunate enough to receive a tour of the historic 1820 plantation home, the formal gardens, and the Japanese garden during my visit. The UVa Foundation currently rents out some of the land to local farmers, mostly for soybean or other commodity crop production, but there is a tentative consideration of incorporating education and student involvement in some sort of agricultural capacity at Morven. A small group of students are actively working to have an independent study course out at Morven in the spring, which will hopefully get the ball rolling on that student involvement aspect. I look forward to returning to Morven soon, and to seeing what direction this relationship will take.

On a personal level (but still food-related -- actually, my personal and professional interest in local food can essentially be considered one and the same...) I participated in a lively -- not to mention delicious -- cooking class yesterday evening over at JABA, Charlottesville's very proactively local food friendly senior center. The attendees self selected into three groups to work simultaneously on three different items: fresh tomato marinara sauce, caponata (a mediterranean eggplant-based vegetable dish), and fig & ginger preserves. I helped to prepare the preserves, which turned out quite nicely! Best of all, we sat down together and ate the fruits of our labor at the end of class. I wonder if students would be interested if something like this came to Grounds...

All of these events and more give me a good feeling about what Dining can accomplish in terms of sustainability this year. I'm lucky to have my current problem of deciding which initiative to focus on first! We are all certainly fortunate indeed to be a part of a community that has such a vibrant focus on sustainable agriculture.

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