By: Ryan Bourgart
Most of us take our food for granted. How many of us know from which state it originated, the resources that go into its journey from farm to fork or the spicy history that is buried beyond our knowledge, like the tear squeezing flesh of a growing onion?
The goal of the Institute for Food at Miami University is to turn over the soil, harvest the truth and enlighten us about the crops we eat. Literally, they are providing enriching food for thought as well as the body. They are involved in an effort to redevelop a vital connection that is fading in our modern, frenzied and technologically-based lives: the connection to our food.
Where does our food come from? Kids would cutely answer that our food comes from the grocery stores. Yet students and adults should know that our food comes from farms near and far. In the U.S. in 2014, getting food to our forks from the farm used 10 percent of the energy budget, 50 percent of US land, 80 percent of freshwater. In Oxford, we are lucky to have, within a couple miles, the opportunity to have fresh, healthy and sustainable crops from the Institute for Food.
The history of the Institute and the farm that serves as its foundation reveals a deeper answer to the question of where our food comes from. Director of the Institute, Peggy Shaffer, shared the rich history of the farm and the Institute. The farm is on the National Register of Historic Places. The history goes all the way back to the 1800s with the creation of a mill. The land became an area used to sell hogs and dairy in the early 1900s. Then, agriculture dominated with the growing of corn, soybeans and hay from the 1930s to the 1950s. The farm was sold to Miami University in the early 2000s. The Institute for Food was created in 2016 as an interdisciplinary project “to engage in real-world issues,” according to Shaffer. She said that the food system spans from the “fundamental biological level to the global level,” connecting individuals not only through economics and the supply chain, but culturally through the preparation and consumption of food.
The Institute for Food is a medium for the environmentally and culturally conscious to think global and act local. Not only does local food cut down on the amount of resources used to produce food, but according to Shaffer it “engages people in basic environmental science and environmental issues without polarizing politics” and highlights the “culturally complex ways we relate to people.” Everyone needs to eat, and ideally we would all eat healthy, sustainable and local food. Communication channels open up where we can relate to others that are very different from us through the common basic need of food.
Peggy also said that she has seen people’s perspectives on food, including her own, change as a result of the involvement with the Institute. “People are connected to the place.” On Thursdays during the week from 3:30 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. at the Cook Field pavilion, the Institute hosts their Community Supported Agriculture. Community members, professors and students alike (including myself) come to purchase the fresh produce. There’s an atmosphere of good cheer as people talk about the vegetables, recipes and the Institute. People are empowered by the ability to make choices that benefit the environment and their community.
Like the bounty of vegetables in the harvesting season, there are a plethora of benefits for connecting with local food. Consuming in an environmentally conscious way, nourishing ourselves with healthy vegetables and relating to others in our community are a few important ingredients for a productive life.
Photos via Ryan Bourgart and Peggy Shaffer.