Contributed by Susan Campbell
The 14th annual DeHart Local Food Market and Dinner took place on Wednesday, Sept. 21. This local foods market was held in Brooks circle and moved to Schultz Banquet Hall for the dinner portion of the event.
Jackie Verrecchia, ’17, a volunteer and attendee of the market, said this year seemed to be one of the most successful for both the market and dinner. She said the tickets for the event sold out in just four hours, a testament to the popularity of the annual event.
“The dinner is not simply a dinner but rather a way to create dialogue around issues of food in the [United States] but more specifically Allegheny,” Verrecchia said. “How can the college work with local agriculture and how can we, as students, also engage and participate more actively in local business.”
While the main goal of the event is to educate Allegheny’s campus and the Meadville community about local food and ways to support the local economy, the dinner has a lesser known legacy, according to Erica Moretti, ’17, president of Edible Allegheny, the food and gardening club on campus?
“The DeHart Local Foods Dinner was originally [a dinner] planned by Jennifer DeHart, a professor at Allegheny Campus. She passed away a number of years ago after battling cancer so the dinner was renamed the DeHart Local Foods Dinner,” Moretti said.
DeHart worked in the environmental science department and passed away in 2010. She acted as a gatekeeper between the Meadville community and the Allegheny community. She was the main facilitator in organizing the local, weekly farmers market held in downtown Meadville and began the dinner to bring awareness about food sustainability to campus.
Kelly Boulton, the campus’ sustainability coordinator, does a majority of the event planning along with several members and professors from the environmental science department and organizations on campus and in the community.
Boulton has organized the event for the past 8 years. Boulton said. “For the past three years, Beth Choate and Kerstin Martin have helped as well. I also partner with Alice Sjolander, at the downtown Meadville Market House, to do the sourcing … We help handle the facility and campus logistics and Alice helps because of her connection with all the farmers and the ease with which she can source through the Market House channels. I then work closely with Parkhurst to design the menu.”
Moretti said the market prior to the dinner is a huge draw for students and community members alike. A local band played as several farmers and businesses set up stands and sold their produce and handmade cuisine. There were also several activities including bobbing for apples and a taste test where participants could try store-bought items and their local counterparts.
“The local foods dinner is there to showcase the local foods movement in Meadville,” Moretti said. “I hope that students will use the energy and excitement from the market and dinner to branch out off of campus to explore what the area has to offer. Every Saturday there is a farmer’s market down at The Market House; it would be great to see more students there interacting with the food and the growers, learning about where their food can come from and who is cultivating it.”
Boulton said she loves to see how excited and appreciative students get about the event.
“I watched one student literally skip out of Schultz after the dinner,” Boulton said. “Another was cradling a jar of extra butternut squash soup she was taking back to her dorm. Others were lingering at the tables, stuffing in seconds and just enjoying it. Another told me she started sweating halfway through the meal because she was too excited and eating too fast.”
Boulton said there are not many events on campus that elicit reactions like the ones she saw. She said that the event brings students face-to-face with local farmers and lets them experience their produce, make flower bouquets, taste cider and buy maple syrup all while teaching them about the importance of local business and agriculture.
“We want to get students to think about where their food comes from and instill an appreciation of the benefits of locally grown and produced food. The typical college student isn’t going to eat like this everyday, but perhaps the dinner helps inspire more trips down to the Market House for their Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon farmers’ markets or anytime to buy local products inside the Market House,” Boulton said.