What's On Our Plates?

How often do you walk through the produce section of your local supermarket and note where the apples were grown? or the broccoli? or the peaches? You may be surprised to learn how much of what you are eating is grown thousands of miles away.

According to the WorldWatch Institute, a think tank based in Washington DC, food in the United States now travels between 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table, as much as 25 percent farther than two decades ago. Rather than being picked early so it can be transported great distances, locally produced food retains the intense flavor that comes from being picked at the height of freshness and also helps reduce the immense amount of nonrenewable resources used to transport produce.

Top: The Pitzer community enjoys locally grown food as part of Bon Appétit's Eat Local Challenge on September 25.
Bottom: Executive Chef Archie Escobar prepares a vegetable stir fry with ingredients that were grown ninety miles from Pitzer's campus.

At Pitzer College it is no secret that the key to a dramatically flavorful and environmentally sound meal is harvesting ingredients locally and in fact the College does so right on its campus. In 1994, Professor John Rodman and a dedicated group of volunteers created the Pitzer organic garden. A portion of the Mead Hall parking lot was jack-hammered and soil was filtered to transform the space. Rodman taught principles of sustainable agriculture and the project encouraged College community members to become more connected with the source of their food.

In 2006 Pitzer's organic garden was expanded to include an area north of the orange tree grove. With the help of several community garden work days and ten tons of compost donated by Vons grocery store, the new expansion offers a communal growing area as well as individuals plots.

Pitzer students, faculty, staff and community members produce a vast and varied array of food, flowers and herbs. Community gardeners harvest extra produce and herbs from their plots each week and share it with the community.

To support the organic garden, devoted students collect food waste from preparation and post-preparation in McConnell Dining Hall to create nutrient rich compost. Approximately three-hundred pounds of food waste per day are diverted from the dining hall and several times each week compost piles are made by combining food waste with organic matter and the correct amount of moisture. Instead of relying on synthetic fertilizers that yield negative production and transportation effects, organic compost provides the ecosystem necessary to grow nutritious food while also decreasing the demand for landfill space.

Top: The Shakedown Café Managers: Dane Pollock '08, Gabe Guerrero '08, Alden Towler '08, Josh Lipkowitz '08 and Fred Beebe '08.
Bottom: Brian Dolphin '09 performs in the Shakedown Café located in the Gold Student Center.

Another group of environmentally conscious Pitzer students also started the Shakedown Café, a student-run eatery on campus, which serves only organic and locally grown foods. The Shakedown opened in Spring 2007 in the Gold Student Center and now perfectly complements the green and community aspects of the new residence halls that surround it. Along with wholesome food, the café's managers also strive to make eating at the Shakedown a true experience in art, music and discussion. Another favorite destination for delicious food is the Grove House kitchen, which offers a daily menu of homemade lunch entrees, sandwiches, bagels, freshly baked cookies, coffee, tea and an assortment of fresh juices.

Furthermore, Bon Appétit, the management company that runs the McConnell Dining Hall, issued an “Eat Local Challenge” on September 25 and the College community was quick to rise to the occasion. As a cook stirred the brightly colored organic beet and vegetable stir fry with ingredients from Tamai Family Farms in Oxnard, California, ninety miles from campus, Pitzer's students, faculty and staff moved through the lines to savor this and many other lunch selections made completely of food from within a 150-mile radius. Bon Appétit has also established a company-wide initiative called “Farm to Fork.” The goal is to offer seasonal and regional products from local farmers on a daily basis and to indicate these items on menus so individuals may specifically choose dishes featuring local ingredients.

By making a concerted effort to grow and consume local and organic food, the Pitzer community is helping to sustain the Earth and its resources as well as the health and well being of each individual.

—Emily Cavalcanti