For a family of four, eating local is as simple as a trip to the farmer’s market. But what does it take for a family of 1,000 to eat local?
West Virginia University will host its first 100-Mile Meal at the Cafe Evansdale dining hall on Thursday (Oct. 23) with all major menu ingredients sourced from a 100 mile radius of the Evansdale campus. The evening will be the culmination of months of planning by WVU Dining Services, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, WVU Extension Service, the College of Business and Economics, and dozens of local farmers.
The 100 Mile-Meal Challenge concept was developed to teach diners about the process of getting food from the farm to the table. While markets, restaurants, and grocery stores are all options for farmers looking to sell their crops, the WVU 100 Mile Dinner is an experiment to add collegiate dining to the list of potential buyers. The result could be a business partnership that benefits the local farming economy while reducing the environmental impact of long-range product shipping.
“The 100 Mile Meal Challenge is just a beginning that we hope will lead every school in the state of West Virginia to actively support sustainable, resilient and healthy food and water systems” said Megan Govindan, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and teaching associate professor of human nutrition and foods. “The participants in the challenge are educating and promoting access to fresh, local and real food throughout their school or university. In West Virginia 45 of 55 counties are serving local foods in their cafeterias.”
The idea for bringing the dinner to WVU came from students from the Hospitality and Tourism program last spring. As part of a capstone project for their event planning class, the students worked with the Human Nutrition and Foods program to bring together healthy and local food stakeholders from across the campus. While many of those students have graduated, their research and presentation led to the development of the dinner.
“I’ve been working with farmers in West Virginia for 41 years, and I’ve never been so excited about a local opportunity for our states farmers,” said Tom McConnell, program leader with the WVU Extension Small Farms Center, which helped create the farming connections necessary for this event. “Nationally, farmers tend to make $0.19 on every $1.00 they sell,” explains McConnell. “That’s not a very efficient way to market crops. Events like this expand the market for farmers, giving them new opportunities for sales. It puts our farmers closer to their customers.”
Chef John Thomas, production manager and senior chef at Caf� Evansdale, shares the enthusiasm.
“We have already received many of the ingredients and they’re all top quality,” said Thomas. “We’ve already started turning apples into cider, apple butter, and preserves for cobblers. That’s just a portion of the dinner we have planned.”
“Education is the key part of this process,” reminds McConnell. “Farmers get to see how WVU Dining Services and other large-scale dining facilities operate, the University gets to learn about small farm production and agriculture, and students get to benefit by learning from them both.”
“What lots of people don’t see is the amount of extra time and energy it takes to purchase direct from farmers. Take, for example, potatoes. For a grocery store potato, a quick rinse is enough to prepare the potatoes to eat. When the potatoes come off the back of a farm truck, however, there’s lots of dirt and mud to wash off. That’s not a huge deal for a single family, but fresh potatoes for 1,000 people is a lot of extra work for our team. It’s discoveries like this that make this event valuable— we’re discovering and overcoming challenges to make our local purchases more frequent.”
The WVU 100-Mile Dinner will be served as part of the normal student dining experience, from 5-8 p.m., with students using their Dining Plans to enjoy the evening’s menu.
“The dinner is also open to the public at the cost of $10.75 per person,” said Thomas. “All are welcome—even those outside of a 100 mile radius!”
CONTACT: Tom McConnell, Program Leader, WVU Extension Small Farm Center
Chef John Thomas, Production Manager, Caf� Evansdale
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