The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Local foods entice Grinnell

Two new developments in Grinnell’s food culture aim to improve student relationships with both their food and their community. The creation of both a community vegetable garden and a student local foods internship represents the culmination of months of commitment and compromise by students and staff looking to reconnect with the systems behind the things they eat.

The garden by Lake Nyanza in Miller Park, located about a mile south of campus, will combine the efforts of volunteers from both the town and College to grow fresh produce. According to organizer Caitlin Vaughan ’10, the program aims to “get more fresh foods onto plates in Grinnell and provide the community with free access to food and gardens in people’s backyards.”

Eric Nost ’09 said that the project aims to “spark discussion on food policy and bring back gardening to everyday life.”

In addition to the Lake Nyanza garden, organizers hope to use the project’s Sarah Boyer ’08 Community Service Fellowship, a summer grant given to a student each year, to provide potted tomato plants for gardening enthusiasts living in apartments. The program is largel aimed at “people who would like to create gardens but may not be able to … our target audience is the disadvantaged and physically handicapped,” Nost said. Regular cookouts are also planned throughout the summer to bring community members together and feature a variety of local foods.

The garden’s student developers relied on support from the community, including the Grinnell Parks and Recreation Department which donated the land for the garden, and volunteers from the Mayflower Retirement Home, who Vaughan said have been eager to share their gardening expertise along with the workload. “They are so excited for this project and have been great with helping us pick weeds,” she said.

Local foods intern Neal Wepking ’10 called the project “an attempt to change [food] culture. More people are looking back at gardening with the economy the way it is.”

The goal of a community vegetable plot began coming together last summer while Nost and a group of three other students worked with the family-oriented nonprofit Mid-Iowa Community Action, Inc. using a Peace Grant to fund a number of local foods projects, including paid gardening internships for high school students and purchasing shares of local agricultural products. Nost began developing the project at Lake Nyanza using the previous summer’s volunteer connections and leftover funding. Nost said that this summer’s programs are “focused on directly engaging people. This is more ambitious, but also more rewarding.”

After a year of planning, Dining Services appointed Wepking to the new position of local foods intern. Wepking described his duties as “facilitating communication between local farms and the dining hall and helping organize the dining hall to buy more local food.” Wepking will serve for the remainder of the season and begin training a new intern next winter.

“Neal is meeting with people, working on growing relationships, asking them what they’re planting and what they’re willing to grow for us in the future,” said Assistant Director of Dining Services Terry Waltersdorf. The job requires negotiating a practical business model with local farmers, not all of whom “are willing to grow wholesale and want two to three times what we’re paying, which is not practical when you’re feeding 1,000 people,” he said.

Waltersdorf said that he believes the internship “is going to end up growing the purchase of local foods, which we were already doing, and make the purchases more local” than the 75-mile radius that Dining Services uses to categorize foods as local.

Dining Services is currently arranging a meal next fall that will feature as many local foods as possible and bring farmers onto campus for the primary goal of “getting food and producers and students together,” Waltersdorf said.

Wepking comes to the position with a lifetime of experience. “I grew up on a farm and worked on an inner-city garden last summer,” he
said. Last year he participated in Think Global, Eat Local, an independent study course instructed by Professor Jon Adelson ’70 Anthropology, Director of the Center for Prairie Studies, which focused on social and environmental principles behind the local food movement.

Through the course, Wepking developed contacts with local farmers Andy Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farms and Bud Doane of North Skunk Sawmill and Market that he currently draws upon for local food procurement. Wepking also aims to establish new sources of local foods, including humanely-treated meat from farmer Barney Bahrenfuse.

However, Waltersdorf admits the difficulty of expanding Grinnell’s local food consumption. “It’s not going to be an overnight thing—Neal is laying the groundwork for the future,” he said. “We can’t even get asparagus out of the ground this year.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *