Year of Meadville concludes first half of reading series

The Year of Meadville reading series of, “The Town that Food Saved,” by author Ben Hewitt, concluded on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. A mix of 40 Allegheny students and local Meadville residents had been gathering to discuss the book since the week of Jan. 18. Hewitt came to Ford Chapel at the conclusion of the series to speak.

The discussions took place once a week and funding for books was provided by the Barnhart-Fishel Endowment Fund from the Allegheny provost office.

AmeriCorps VISTA Leader Lee Scandinaro, ’15, helped facilitate the book group and described the group meetings as a chance to connect people from different backgrounds.

“My group had such a wide range of experience with food: two local farmers from Conneaut Lake, two educational food representatives, students, community member,” said Scandinaro. “It really built our knowledge because everyone had different specialties in food.”

Hewitt’s book was a segue into a discussion about The Year of Meadville’s sub theme for the month of Februaryfood. A panel was held with Hewitt and other local food experts to discuss more in-depth questions on the benefits of local foods within the community on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Members of the panel spoke about what it means to have a local food system and how that system impacts the community in different aspects.

The panel discussed how the benefits of local food have highlighted the importance of  creating food hubs in Meadville. The food hubs, which could potentially connect local growers to institutions to provide local food to strengthen the economy, is part of an initiative by the community wellness initiative.

Hewitt’s book is a part of a two-part reading series. The kickoff of the second book, “Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses” by Stacey Mitchell, began the week of Sunday, Feb 21, 2016.  

The economy is complicated and some people believe it should be left to certain people, however it is just as important as food and it’s important to approach the topic of the economy as well.

— Autumn Vogel

So far, 30 participants have signed up and have been provided with books. Mitchell’s book is a part of The Year of Meadville subtheme, the economy, for the month of March.

Mitchell’s book is a transition from the discussion of local food to the impact of large businesses on the economy. The Year of Meadville organizer, Autumn Vogel, ’15, said the two books connected the sub themes for the months of February and March.

“The economy is complicated and some people believe it should be left to certain people, however it is just as important as food and it’s important to approach the topic of the economy as well,” Vogel said.

Currently, the reading groups are still accepting new members. Jeremy Loewer, ’17, a student facilitator said the discussions which these types of events inspire are important.

“The book readings offer a space for important conversations to be had, to talk to people you wouldn’t necessarily talk to. There are [people of] different ages and backgrounds. We are able to compare  our ideas, allowing us to really contextualize the information,” said Loewer. “It’s important to foster more of that conversation between townspeople and students. I hope after all of this is done it really stays around.”

After the second reading series ends, Mitchell will speak in the Tippie Alumni Center on March 10, at 7 p.m. about possible solutions to the divide in the consumerism between big-box stores and small-town local businesses. Loewer hopes the book will inspire change.

“It will cause some change—it has potential to. What we can do is support local businesses. Some of the members of the group said that they wouldn’t be caught dead in Walmart. They would travel miles just to get products from a local business rather than a big-box store,” said Loewer.

A final panel will be held on March 20 from 10:30 to 12 p.m. at Shops at the Bank. The panel will include Mitchell; Evelyn Burnett, vice president of economic opportunity at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress; Dan Conant, ’17, founder of Solar Holler; and Jenifer Kaminsky, the housing director from People United for Sustainable Housing in Buffalo, New York.

Transportation will be available to students, and food and child care will be provided.