Dinner honors late professor

The Meadville local foods movement lost a key supporter last year, but her legacy lives on at Allegheny. The DeHart Local Foods Dinner, which both honors the memory and work of Jennifer DeHart took place Thursday, Sept. 15 in Brooks Dining Hall. Brooks served locally sourced food and a farmer’s market was set up along Brooks Walk at 4 pm.

DeHart, professor of environmental science and advocate for the local foods movement, founded the event. She passed away in the spring of 2010 and the event was named in her honor at the request of students and faculty who worked to keep the dinner an annual event.

“I think that it’s really awesome that we’re still carrying on that legacy for her and in remembrance of her,” said Maranda Nemeth, ’12, president of Students for Environmental Action. “So it’s really nice to see that even though she’s passed away the things that she started and pioneered here at Allegheny and in the community are still living.”

In the event’s third annual year, 12 farmers from the area sold produce from their farms alongside other vendors selling their goods.

Brooks offered an entirely local menu consisting of food entirely grown at farms within 30 miles.

“Our two main farmers this year are Golden Hill farms out of Cockerton and we have partnered with Mercyhurst College,” said Scott Steiner, Parkhurst director of operations.

The farm at Mercyhurst College is called the West Garden Project. According to Steiner, over 1,000 students ate at Brooks Thursday.

“It’s been a really great event,” said Kelly Williams, ’14, from behind the Strawberry Lane Produce table on Brooks Walk. “People have been responding well. I’ve been looking forward to it all semester.”

Williams was a part of the committee of students and faculty that worked with Parkhurst to plan the event.

“For me, the goal is to introduce students to this whole portion of the Meadville community that is usually behind the scenes,” said Paula Frisch, ’11, coordinator of the event. “[The goal is] to give students the opportunity to interact with farmers, artists and other students that feel passionately about this.”

Outside, farmers sold goods and produce, from hula-hoops to raspberry rhubarb jam. Students were able to take pictures with a llama, see chickens and pet goats. A local band, Gypsy Dave and the Stumpjumpers, performed.

SEA offered a taste-testing booth, demonstrating the difference in taste between conventionally grown produce from Wal-Mart and food harvested on Wednesday from on-campus gardens managed by new student club Edible Allegheny.

The event has grown considerably since its inception.

“The outdoor events are bigger,” Frisch said. “Last year we had four farm stands, this year we have 12.”

One farmer, Rebecca Vines, owner of Fresh from the Vines farm north of Meadville, sold peppers, tomatoes and other veggies in addition to her baked goods, which are sold in McKinley’s year-round.

“I think the whole concept of having the local foods dinner at the college is just incredible,” she said. “I think it really brings awareness to a lot of the students who might not normally think about where their food comes from. It also draws a lot of people into the process to get a better feel for the challenges and rewards for doing this type of event.”

Vines said that some of the event’s challenges included finding suitable food from local farmers, for some may not have planned for the event during planting season. It was also difficult to find food that was up to par with Parkhurst’s standards.

As a part of their mission statement, Parkhurst makes an effort to supply the dining halls with as much local food as possible. 38 percent of the food provided to the dining halls throughout the year is grown locally, most of which is dairy and produce.

Aside from looking for locally grown food in the cafeterias, students can purchase food and goods from local vendors every Saturday at the Market House in Meadville.

According to Vines, DeHart was a crucial player in reviving the Saturday morning farmer’s market at the Market House. Kelly Boulton, sustainability coordinator and event coordinator for the local foods dinner, is a market regular and says that going to the market builds her sense of community.

“It’s the community event of the week,” said Boulton. “They have not just the farmer’s market with lots of vegetables and produce but they have artists and local coffee roasters and maple syrup producers. It just expands and it’s a really cool event. That’s something students should take advantage of.”

Boulton said that students looking to learn more about sustainable food practices or to get involved in movements on campus can look into groups such as SEA and Edible Allegheny. Students can help support the local economy and local growers by buying snacks from the Market House instead of mainstream stores.

“I think it’s an incredible honor to her,” Vines said about DeHart. “The fact that she started all this and has since left us, I think, can speak volumes to any of the students here that you can start something somewhere and just because you leave, it doesn’t mean it stops.”