The Local Foods Dinner: A Yearly Treat

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Photos by Cristina Abellan-Matamoros.

The annual Local Foods Day in Sharples, held last Tuesday, which features food originating entirely by nearby farms, has been a student favorite since its inception. The Good Food Project started the event in the spring of 2007, but it has since been predominately organized by Sharples staff.

“Sharples has made the Local Foods night their own special event. I think the students of Good Food are proud of Dining Services for it. The staff does an amazing job. They sourced the local food, dedicatedly prepared it, and labeled everything so that diners could know where it was from,” last year’s Good Food Project director Jamie Hansen-Lewis ’10 said.

Janet Kassab, Director of Purchasing at Sharples and the driving force behind this event, said that her role in the project “stemmed from a desire to interact with and promote local farmers.” Several participating farmers were invited to sample their products at Swarthmore Local Foods Night. Before last year, Pennsylvania farmer Noah Gress supplied the local food for this annual event.

“He would be running all over the state,” Kassab said, “It takes a lot of food to feed college kids and local farmers don’t grow on that scale. We would take all Noah’s product, and he would then head out to other farmers to find the rest of what we needed.”

Gress still contributes his product regularly to Sharples and especially on Local Foods day, but since last year Kassab has had another source from which to purchase. “I did a lot of the buying this year from the Common Market,” she said, “It’s a group in Philadelphia that buys from local farmers, brings all the food together, and then sells to restaurants, hospitals, and schools. It’s a convenient way for farmers to move products and one-stop-shopping for the buyer.”

“To me, buying local is not an innovative idea. It’s normal. It makes sense to support the community and have fresh food. At Sharples I try to do it as much as possible,” Kassab said. However, buying locally is not always an option. Locally bought food comes into the kitchen “raw,” meaning it has to be cleaned, prepped, cooked, and served — an enormous amount of work.

According to Kassab, making a few items per day in this manner is not problematic, but going through this process with every item, as on Local Food Day, is difficult and not practical for daily service. Dining Services Director Linda McDougall agreed that “this dinner is a huge amount of work for our staff,” adding that much of the preparation is done a day or two before the event itself.

Another reason local foods are not used more throughout the year is that the harvesting season in Pennsylvania is limited to mostly fall and late spring. Mushrooms, apples, kale, sprouts and other root vegetables, as well as eggs and tofu, are available at other times, but the quantity and variety of food necessary to produce an entirely local meal is simply not available all-year-round, according to Kassab.

Correction: This article originally listed Hansen-Lewis’s last name incorrectly.