Last weekend five members from the environmental studies department at the College attended the Midwest Real Food Summit at Northwestern University in Chicago. I will admit now that I was one of the five. Crammed tight in an Altima, we made our way to the windy city with one thing on our mind: real food.
After 7 hours of driving we reached Chicago, despite our many doubts. Upon entering the conference room we were greeted by a slew of foodies, farmers and friends of farmers all extremely excited for the upcoming weekend. Although their ecstatic enthusiasm was slightly disconcerting, we had high hopes for the weekend.
Early the next morning we each set off on field trips throughout the Chicago city area, ranging from presentation on the new sustainability project at the Chicago Aquarium to the reintroduction of Aztec planting methods the fields trips looked promising. I chose to tour an urban gardening school called Windy City Harvest located on the west side of Chicago in a poor Hispanic community. After taking a course in Agroecology at the College, it was interesting to see many of the techniques we both learned and personally worked with in the CowPatch implemented. The school really promoted the process of seed starting. This is done by mixing soil with high organic matter (dark soil) with water and molding it into perfect squares using a press. The squares were then slightly dried and seeds with planted within them. This method proves efficient for rapid seedling growth and can be started in the late winter, to prepare to transportation to soil plots in the early spring.
Windy City Harvest offers a 9 month long course on Agroecology to roughly ten students a year. Many of the applicants come from an urban setting and are interesting in furthering small urban farms.† Windy City Harvest is also very active in the community, especially with the local youth groups, offering many paid garden positions to local high school students. Check out their website by clicking here.
That afternoon I attended a lecture on Farm to School given by the founder of the US program, Anupama Joshi. Farm to School is a program I recently found out about myself after attending the GEN Food Summit held two weeks ago at the College. One of the speakers at the GEN Food Summit, Chuck Dilbone, was involved in Farm to School at a local high school in Granville, Ohio. The Farm to School program aims to better the nutrition and food options by connecting with the local farmers at school cafeterias across the United States. Many parents in the US are unaware of the health problems existing in their children’s school cafeterias. Many of these cafeterias do not even contain ovens, let alone ingredients to cook. Instead the food comes pre-packaged (which has high sodium content) and is warmed up using conventional microwaves.
Fed up with this system and worried about her son, Joshi set out to revolutionize the school lunch system by reaching out to local farmers and to the community. In order for the revolution to occur, we must break free from the middleman or more commonly known as the school lunch provider. Schools need to receive their food straight from the farm, hence the Farm to School. The entire time she was speaking I thought back to Dilbone and his struggle to revolutionize his school’s cafeteria.
Dibone completely modernized the cafeteria by removing the microwaves and replacing them with a legitimate chef and an oven. He then began to build healthier menus, complete with a vegetable bar and sandwich line where students have local smoked turkey as an option. While not all of the ingredients come straight from the farm, many ingredients such as the potatoes, beef and other vegetables do make from the field to the cafeteria. Dilbone is also focusing on teaching his public school students about the origins of their lunch, in hopes of fostering a closer relationship with the surrounding environment, since many have no clue where food comes from other than the grocery store. Check out the Farm to School program here
If enough people get excited about eating safe, sustainable and delicious food we could have a food revolution on our hands. Our nation desperately needs to change its food system and the only way to start is to reconnect the people to the land. It’s no longer all about going organic; we need to go local. I think we will see our health improve as will the local economy. Farmers are becoming a dying breed and if we don’t act now we will have no options except large-scale conventional farms. Support your local farmers today and see with your own eyes where your food is coming from.