Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Growing Good Food: School food worth celebrating

The interns who run the student farm at Colorado College (above, that's Rebecca Levi, left, and Jillian Gold, working at the farm along Fountain Creek) are taking inspiration from Bill McDorman, who gave a passionate lecture on campus last month about the magic of saving back seed and took time during his trip to visit the student farm.

For the first time ever, they are hosting a seed exchange during their Annual Harvest Dinner, a fundraiser and food festival planned for Sept. 16. (McDorman advocated turning potlucks into seed exchanges rather than just recipe exchanges.)

“It’s a celebration of everything we’ve done this season and a display of local food,” says Gold, one of three paid interns. “It’s a fundraising event, and it’s open to the community as a form of outreach. We have a lot of loyal followers, but we also welcome new people. We’ll talk about what we do and how the garden plays into the local food movement.”

Tickets are $30 for individuals, $50 for couples and can be reserved by e-mailing Make your reservations soon, as the intern-hosts expect a sell-out!

Gold, along with fellow interns Levi and Alix Hudson, have worked on boosting production from their small wooded acreage adjacent to campus this year and are supplying everything they grow to Bon Appetit Management Co. at Colorado College. It is then served in school dining halls or at catered events, often with signs indicating its origin.

Just a reminder... the public is invited to eat at any of the dining halls on the CC campus throughout the year and weekly menus are available on-line. You will find that the menus are often built around meat from Ranch Foods Direct and produce from Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, a Ranch Foods Direct preferred supplier. Bon Appetit at Colorado College gets as much as 60 percent of the food they serve at any one time from local sources, and it doesn't get any more local than growing your own.

Head Chef Ed Clark says the students are “professional” and “very knowledgeable” about the food items, deliver excellent quality, high yield and long shelf life for the kitchens and add to the college mission of sustainability.

“It helps on so many different levels,” he says. “It brings the community together. It makes everybody proud to eat something that was grown two blocks away and just pulled out of the ground yesterday. Not many places can say that.”

For a longer article about the inspiring CC student farm and its interns, read my article published recently in the AG JOURNAL.

Seeds Are Worth Saving

(This is a recap of McDorman's wonderful lecture at Colorado College last month, published in the Ranch Foods Direct September newsletter)

Open pollinated seed results in plants that are near replicas of the parent, whereas most of today’s popular seed for everything from garden vegetables to field corn is hybridized, or crossbred, bearing results far less predictable. As Seeds Trust founder Bill McDorman explained during a visit to Colorado College last month, the widespread adoption of hybrids following World War II brought the tradition of seed saving to near extinction.

Another casualty was flavor and variety. Thirty years ago, after graduating with a degree in philosophy, he set out to gather seeds from the world’s best tasting vegetables and soon learned that his quest would require traveling to some of the most isolated, remote and non-commercialized villages left on earth.

In Siberia, with a crisp alpine climate not unlike our own, he discovered “a genetics lab for flavor” in the form of thriving well-tended gardens and avid gardeners who carefully saved seed for generations and lovingly named lines of vegetables after their own children. They lived by a judicious and self-reliant philosophy: “always only plant half.” As it turned out, McDorman was able to rescue some of their heirloom seeds from anonymity and before more political and social instability descended on the region.

Today, he’s using to fund a series of seed-saving schools and inspiring others to turn old bank buildings into seed banks, old libraries into seed libraries, and recipe exchanges at potlucks into seed sharing picnics. “Every flowering plant produces seed. It’s magic you can take part in,” he says.

As more of the world’s seed becomes hybridized and even genetically modified — not to mention captured, owned, licensed, restricted and monitored — McDorman has a delicious source of hope that food production will take off in a different direction. “We have the secret weapon,” he said. “We have the best tomatoes.”