’It’s All Connected’: Annual DeHart Dinner, ‘the bounty of Crawford County’

The DeHart Local Foods Dinner, an Allegheny tradition that honors Jennifer DeHart, who passed away in 2010, was served to Allegheny students on Wednesday, Oct. 2 at Schultz Banquet Hall. 

The Dinner honors the legacy of DeHart, who was an environmental science professor and key member of the sustainability department. One of her largest contributions in her time at Allegheny was reviving the local food economy, from which the majority of ingredients for the dinner on Wednesday were sourced. 

The collaborative nature of the event, which involves Parkhurst Dining, the Department of Environmental Science, food and products from local farms and vendors and student volunteers, showcases the link between the Allegheny community and Meadville as a whole, a connection DeHart was keen to foster since she began teaching at Allegheny in 2001. She passed away in 2010 after a five-year battle with cancer.

Kelly Boulton, sustainability coordinator, gave the introductory remarks for the dinner, in which she spoke of DeHart’s influence that is still felt today. 

“She worked really hard to get the farmers in this area to come together and revive the farmer’s market down at the Market House every Saturday,” Boulton said. 

Not only did she collaborate with local farms, but “she was really interested in sustainable agriculture and particularly how people that were not farmers participated with that culture,” according to Boulton.

The printed menu displayed at the serving tables described DeHart as an “effective community organizer” who “revived the local food movement” and reinvigorated the weekly downtown farmers’ market at the market house. She “introduced the first local foods dinner to campus to showcase what she termed ‘the bounty of Crawford County’ and help the campus community connect to the region’s agricultural landscape and farming community.” 

Boutlon attested that DeHart was “a really warm, down-to-earth person who was interested in creating community at a lot of different levels, and she was pretty successful at it.”

The dinner allows Allegheny students to experience the Meadville agricultural community that they might not ordinarily be aware of, “unless they’re waking up early on a Saturday” to go to the farmer’s market at the Market House, Boulton said. It brings local farms and vendors to campus such as Strawberry Lane Produce, Nancy Schultz Flowers, The Green Shoppe and Tarot Bean Roasting Co. 

These companies sold local produce, flowers, soaps and lotions, and offered free coffee samples, respectively, at the event. Allegheny College Bike Share as well as Green Students of Color Society sat alongside the local vendors dispensing information on their efforts.

At the Dinner, a local band, Salmon Frank, played while Allegheny student volunteers, who helped with the food preparation, served students fresh salads, hot entrees and desserts made with locally sourced, fresh ingredients. Some offerings included coffee-rubbed lamb kabobs courtesy of Old Path Farm and the aforementioned Tarot Bean Roasting Co. (who offers deep discounts for students who bring their own mug); Shiitakes and Green Frittatas in Filo, from Crawford County Fungi and greens from the Carrden outside of  Carr Hall; and fresh apple cider and apple dumplings from Davenport Fruit Farm Cidery and Winery, and Heagy’s Orchard. 

“Some of the vegetables, you can taste the earth,” said Danielle Studer, ’22, a student volunteer. 

“I’m so glad I get to go home feeling full of healthy food,” said Grace Proper, ’22, another student volunteer. 

Maura McCampbell, ’20, said that she has enjoyed the event every year as an attendee, but she wanted to participate this year by serving the food. 

“There are so many good humans, and when you sit at a table you can only meet so many of them, but when you’re serving you get to meet all of them and see all the lovely faces,” McCampbell said. “It’s an inherently community-centered event.” 

How does the food taste so great? 

“It’s about relationships,” Boulton said. “When we’re eating we often don’t think about who grew our food because the identity has been stripped away and shipped to campus on a truck.” 

Restoring that intimacy and relationship with our food is what makes the DeHart Dinner so fun, according to Boulton. It requires working with Chef Charles from Parkhurst after consulting myriad farms to determine what they are growing, and how the weather and land conditions this year have influenced what is available for the menu.

Ron Mumme, professor of biology and guitarist, along with Sam Reese, lab technician for the geology and environmental science departments and bassist, both members of Salmon Frank, attested to the interconnections between people that made the dinner possible. 

Reese said that he had known DeHart, that she was “very down-to-earth, passionate and loved poetry.”  

The drummer, George Stabile, had a daughter who is an Allegheny alumna, and Reese, further emphasizing the strength of the local ties, said that Frank Bercik, the vocalist and guitarist for the band, had even bought DeHart’s car she was selling at one point. 

“It’s all connected,” Mumme said.

Boutlon also noted that DeHart’s office at Allegheny felt “cozy” and “a lot of students really connected with her.” Her contribution, in addition to fostering community, includes many sustainability measures on campus that are still in place today. 

DeHart herself was responsible for creating the college’s Greenhouse gas inventory, getting the campus on track for climate neutrality by next year. 

Though most students on campus never interacted with DeHart, the DeHart Dinner serves as a reminder of her legacy and of the importance of the local food economy, and the relationships it fosters. It continues to be an event that many students and faculty look forward to every October.