Farms, History, and Homemade Bread

With the semester winding down and students immersed in final papers and exams over the last couple of weeks, I have had a little extra time on my hands to leave Grounds and continue my exploration of the Charlottesville foodshed.

On Monday, December 9th, head chef Bryan Kelly and I ventured up to the northern part of Albemarle County to tour Currituck Farm. This cattle farm is notable for a few reasons: it is a potentially hyper-local source of grass-fed beef, arriving at UVa Dining halls from just twenty minutes away (processing takes place in-state, as well); supporting this local farm would also mean supporting our own county's economy; and Currituck happens to be owned and operated by one of Albemarle County's very own Supervisors, Ann Mallek.

Currituck is a beautiful farm, and even from a brief visit it was evident that every cow in the small herd is healthy and contented. Students (hopefully) will be fortunate indeed to get a taste of beef raised and processed in such a sustainable way.

At the end of the same week, I traveled down to Raphine, VA, near Lexington, for a visit to the historic Wade's Mill; a still-functioning mill that has been in operation since 1750. I had the chance to poke around the historic structure and learn more about its workings from owners Jim and Georgie Young.

After a delightful local lunch at Jim and Georgie's lovely farmhouse, I mused aloud at the likelihood of Thomas Jefferson himself ever eating something containing flour ground at Wade's Mill. Georgie explained that mills were rather commonplace in the 18th century, and Thomas Jefferson probably consumed flour ground closer to home. This doesn't rule out the possibility, she admitted, of Jefferson's travels to Poplar Forest or to Lexington taking him perhaps right past Wade's Mill, or even along the same road as the mill. Regardless of how close the two ever actually came, there's something compelling about the thought of Jefferson being a contemporary of this steadfast building - and the fact that his writings and ideas continue to nourish our minds, just as the mill still grinds out a product that continues to nourish our bodies.

Over this past weekend, while trapped inside my house thanks to the Blizzard of 2009, I had plenty of time to try my hand at making bread from scratch, using - what else? - Wade's Mill flour. The bread turned out perfectly, and the time and care I put into crafting it, combined with my gratitude for the miller's work, made the eating quite a pleasurable experience. There is certainly a satisfying symmetry to it all.


Wendell Berry: Essayist, Poet, Novelist and Inspirationalist

Last week, UVa was incredibly fortunate to host acclaimed writer Wendell Berry as the latest visiting scholar in the Brown College Environmental Writes and Scholars Lecture Series. He gave a poetry reading from his latest collection, Leavings, on Wednesday, December 2nd in the Rotunda Dome Room, and also gave a talk on sustainable agriculture the following evening, December 3rd, in the Harrison/Special Collections Auditorium. The auditorium was filled to capacity nearly an hour in advance of Berry's lecture -- clearly, there's a genuine and pressing interest within the UVa community to understand this topic more deeply.

If you weren't able to attend the lecture (or couldn't get in), you can download the podcast by visiting the UVa Podcast site and clicking on "Take Me to UVa iTunesU" on the right-hand side of the page. Wendell Berry's lecture is podcast number 63.

I associate Wendell Berry - especially his poetry - with sitting around the kitchen table at Waterpenny Farm, eating a dinner of food grown by our own hands after a long day of working in the field with that same produce, and listening to a fellow intern and English Master's student read aloud to us all Berry's Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. I think Mr. Berry would approve.


Sustainability in the News

Two articles have come out this week regarding University (and Dining) sustainability efforts. The first article comes to us by way of the Cavalier Daily, and it's essentially a review of the sustainability work that took place on Grounds this past semester, with a look forward to the spring. Read the article here: "University departments review green initiatives."

The second article comes from UVa Today, with a focus on tips from University-wide sustainability staff regarding how to sustainably celebrate the holidays. Read here: "Dreaming of a Green Christmas? Holidays Can Be Sustainable."

As a bonus, the University of Virginia Magazine recently produced a segment on the most recent sustainable Dining goings on. Watch here: "Green Dining at U.Va."


Aramark Sustainability Stewards Conference, 11/2-11/4

This is dated information, but I have been remiss in not posting about the Aramark Sustainability Stewards Meeting that we hosted here at UVa last month. Sustainability Stewards and Coordinators from around the country (Arizona, Minnesota, Vermont, Texas, Idaho, Florida, headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and more) gathered in Charlottesville for an intense three-day meeting in which we covered the Green Thread pillars (Aramark's Sustainability initiative), visited local farms, and a lot in between. Every account - not to mention region - is in a very different place than the others, meaning that most of what we dealt with was very top-level and broadly applying to Aramark Higher Education. Consistency is important, but it's also worth noting that some of those differences between accounts are very valuable (Florida's local growing season in comparison to ours, for example) and not to be overlooked.

While figuring out how to strike that balance during the conference, I was fortunate enough to meet the many creative thinkers that make up the Higher Ed sustainability team: I have sent nearly countless emails to some of them in the past month, and appreciate just how important collaboration is in our line of work.

Enjoy a few photos of our time together:

The Armark Sustainability Stewards team

At one of our brainstorming sessions

Touring the Monticello visitor's center with Monticello Garden Director Peter Hatch

Dinner at the lovely Colonnade Club

Panorama PayDirt owner Steve Murray explains his composting operation

The team learns about the composting process

Wolf Creek Farms owner John Whiteside chats with me about his cattle operation

Part of the Wolf Creek herd

Perfect Flavor sorbet at our last conference lunch