September 30, 2009
Source: Emory Wheel/Sept. 29, 2009

Mother Nature smiled upon the Cox Hall bridge on Friday as large crowds basked in the sun during Emory's fourth annual Sustainable Food Fair and Farmers Market.

The event, co-sponsored by Emory Dining and Emory's Office of Sustainability Initiatives, showcased many familiar faces from the weekly Farmers Market but also brought restaurants such as Dynamic Dish, Rosebud and 4th & Swift, farmers such as Farmer D Organics and organizations like Georgia Organics to campus.

Luckily for Emory students, many of these local businesses and farmers came equipped with food and other product samples, which they passed out all afternoon despite the large, hungry crowds.

Students of the Fast Food/Slow Food class, an anthropology course that discusses the American food system in collaboration with more sustainable models, worked together with the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives and Emory Dining to run the event.

Peggy Barlett, the instructor for the course, founded the food fair four years ago as well as Emory's Sustainability Initiatives program.

"I think now people are understanding sustainable food better," Barlett said. "The first year people thought this was just a free-food fest. Now they're starting to realize that it's about farmers and local food vendors. Students are starting to see this as a part of their smaller food shed."

The booth attracting the most attention was the one sponsored by 4th & Swift restaurant. Students waited in line for their chance to try Chef Jay Swift's assortment of fine-dining contemporary American dishes.

In between describing his dishes to students, Swift explained the significance of the farm to table movement.

"By using local products, you're shortening the distance between where the food was produced and the table," he said. "Nothing good happens to your food between the farm and your table. Time passes, it could be thrown off of a truck, could be frozen -- any time you're shortening the distance you're going to have a better product."

Among the many hungry students waiting in line to try Swift's creations was College senior Stacey Neilson.

"In my four years of being at Emory, I've never been to the sustainable food fair, and I honestly should have done it years ago," she said while holding an ice cream sandwich from the Mayfield Dairy booth.

Next to Swift's table was farmer Joe Bouchard from The Veggie Patch at Bouchard Farms. Citing the rainforest as an example of poor farming methods, Bouchard explained the logistics of sustainable farming.

"You tend to use up the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and all the nutrients of the soil," he said. "In sustainable agriculture, you're adding back into the soil trying to develop a soil-food web of microbes to keep nutrient levels up. [And] doing all this without resorting to massive amounts of fertilizer and chemicals."

A point farmers and chefs consistently made during the fair concerned the additional time, energy and resources that growing these sustainable foods required. In these times of economic hardships, staying sustainable and profitable at the same time has proven difficult. However, this was not the case for Teresa Pope of Moore Farms and Friends.

"If you go back five years, I've seen a huge jump in growth," she said. "For our market alone, we've not suffered because of the economy thanks to our solid customer base."

Two Slow Food students who stood out in the crowd were College junior Linda Oyesiku and college senior Jenny Jia, dressed as a giant corn on the cob and tomato, respectively.

"I am representing corn," Oyesiku declared. "The point is that corn is in all of our processed foods. High fructose corn syrup in particular and all other corn derivatives cheat your body into thinking you can eat more because they’re indigestible. The food industry wants us to buy more food, which they’ve been able to do."

On the other hand, vegetable-in-crime Jia was representing a different aspect of food sustainability.

"I am protesting the unethical treatment of produce pickers who are being paid really small amounts of money and working six to seven days a week in arduous conditions," she said.

Among the several farmers and restaurateurs, Will Harris of White Oak Pastures was the only rancher at the event. Recently featured in a documentary produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance, Harris comes from a family of ranchers dating back to 1866. While serving his grass-fed beef meatballs, Harris, in his charming Georgian accent, explained the difference between his beef and the beef in average grocery stores.

"Really, except for being better for the environment, better for the animals, and healthier and safer and more environmentally sustainable, there’s not any better," he said.

By the end of the event, it was clear that the fourth annual Sustainable Food Fair and Farmers Market was well-received by students and vendors.

And although many might have attended just for the food, the spirit and purpose of the event was as bright and clear as the weather.

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An Emory Dining chef offers students a taste of sustainable shrimp and grits at Friday's Food Fair.