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From farm to fork, with a syllabus on the side

By Barbara Brooks | Madison County Courier

(Colgate University – Hamilton, NY) When Courtney Walsh ‘10 sat down to dinner at Circa restaurant in Cazenovia, there was a good chance that she had seen the vegetables on her plate before. The dinner, hosted by Chris Henke, professor of sociology and anthropology, was the culmination of the semester’s work in his core distinction class, simply called Food.

The course explored the politics and culture of food, agriculture, and nutrition across the globe.

To broaden their perspective, students spent three hours each week at Common Thread Community Farm, a few miles up the road from Colgate’s campus, harvesting cabbage, squash, celeriac, and other produce. They recorded their everyday experiences related to food and eating in a farm journal.

“I first saw these vegetables in their unearthed, dirt-ridden state,” marveled Walsh, a psychology major from Texas. “So it’s a bit surreal, and definitely rewarding, to see them now — cooked, prepared, and doused with delicious sauces. I feel very connected to the food on my plate.”

The menu, created by Alicyn Hart, Circa’s chef and owner, included Asian slaw, butternut squash gnocchi, and salt-roasted beets with celeriac remoulade and golden potato pancakes. Meat eaters enjoyed pot roast and pork chops, also from local farms, and there was roasted pumpkin cobbler for dessert.

According to Hart, students and professors aren’t the only ones showing a growing interest in the “noble cause” of sustainable agriculture.

“Every year more local farmers come to me with their products,” she said, “and more of my customers are interested in knowing where their food comes from and how the livestock was treated.”

Though Henke’s class was the first to incorporate Common Thread Community Farm into Colgate’s curriculum, the university has a growing partnership with the farm. More than half of the farm’s 250 shareholders are somehow affiliated with Colgate, and Frank Dining Hall serves fresh produce grown there.

The Thanksgiving holiday inspired Jenna Weber ‘10 to share the harvest with her family in New Jersey.

“Cooking new things and from scratch was a great way to spend the break with my mom and sister, and tied very neatly into discussions we’ve had in class about food and identity,” Weber said. “My entire family thought that the vegetables were by far the most flavorful they’d ever had, and my mom has begun fervently researching CSAs from which she can buy a share for next season.”

That makes Henke especially proud.

“The students have been coming up with great ideas for reform through education, political change, and cultural shifts,” he said. “It sounds so cliched, but I really am hoping that they will become our next set of leaders in terms of food.”


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