Campus / Food Politics / News / April 6, 2011

Dining Services goes local

Knox’s Dining Services department was recognized by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance for its use of local foods with a Golden Beet Award.

The award recognizes “the creative, innovative and pioneering local food activities in Illinois,” according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance website, and Knox’s award is in the “Farm to School” category.

A local Galesburg resident on the board nominated the school, according to Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer.

Dining Services currently gets food from various local suppliers, including 80 pounds of bread from Q’s Café each week, all the Gizmo’s coffee from Innkeeper’s, all-beef hamburgers from a farm 30 miles away and 20 to 30 kinds of produce from local farmers.

“I hope to ramp this up significantly,” Mayer said. “If it’s out there I would love to [use local food].”

Price is an issue Mayer faces in bringing more local food to Knox. Although he often haggles over price he usually ends up paying 5-15 percent more than he would for non-local food. But, he said, “I think it’s worth it for local produce to pay a little more.”

The Knox Garden Club also hopes to grow food for use in the cafeteria, according to club president junior Rebecca Ott. The club is hoping to increase its harvest to provide at least a couple of vegetables to Dining Services.

The group is also working with Mayer on plans to have one meal per week in the Oak Room with only locally grown food.

Mayer is “really open” to using more local food, Ott said. “It’s just a matter of cost and practicality, trying to find ways around the economic burden.”

Ott is involved in the Knox Food Coalition, which works toward making the food system at Knox more sustainable, working with local farmers and increasing awareness about local food. Ott emphasized the power and opportunity we have as a campus community to bring about change in the food system.

Another group active in issues of local food at Knox is Food for Thought. Food for Thought visits and helps local farmers around Galesburg. According to the club’s president sophomore Dana Robinson, the group has planted food that has been used or had planned to be served in Knox’s cafeteria.

Local food is important to environmental sustainability, local community and economy.

According to Mayer local food is important to decreasing pollution in the oil-based society in which we live.

Ott explained the relationship that develops from local food: “There’s more of a responsibility and commitment … to producing food that’s healthy for both humans and the environment.”

“It just makes sense,” Robinson said.

The issue of local food is much larger than Knox. First-year Nora McGinn is exploring the larger issues of food and how they apply to Knox through her Sustainability class. McGinn is part of a group researching food distribution.

According to McGinn, the cause of the problem lies in the way food is approached in America. It is currently more profitable for farmers to grow soybeans and corn for ethanol production, rather than growing foods that people in the area could eat.

McGinn and her group are contacting other schools in the area and around the country to learn what they are doing with local food and trying to find a cost effective way to use local food more comprehensively in Dining Services at Knox.

They are looking for a food distributor that would use all local, organic food. Knox’s current food distributor, although located in Peoria, cannot even guarantee that all their food comes from the U.S., according to McGinn.

From her research so far, McGinn says Knox is “definitely not on the higher end,” of the amount of local food used among colleges.

“It is important to use local food, she said, “not only because of the health of our planet but the health of our students and the heath of our community.”

Gretchen Walljasper

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