Real Food Festival shows ways to be sustainable

Two children watched an apple peeler at one of the Real Food Festival’s many tables. (Julia Carleton/The Phoenix)

If you happened to pass through the open space across from the Swarthmore Co-op this weekend, you would have heard joyful music and seen children playing, parents collecting brochures and asking questions around different tables or people shaking jars. Grow, Cook, Eat: A Hands-on Farmers’ Market is an event that is part of the Real Food Festival organized by the Swarthmore College Good Food club, the Co-Op and Swarthmore Sustainable Table. This market provides participants with more interactive learning experiences on making food than the usual farmers’ market.

“[The Real Food Festival] is all about getting information about sustainability that relates to food,” said Marc BrownGold, the General Manager of the Co-op. This festival offers incentives for people to buy locally and to motivate people to think about their everyday choices in food.

Phil Coleman, the President of a non-profit organization — aFewSteps.org, brought information on how energy is concentrated in food production and food processing and how people can reduce energy. According to the panelists, most food products in the US are transported for an average of 1500 miles before they are sold. Local farmers, however, are able to offer fresh, high-quality produce. Therefore, purchasing local food should be encouraged not just for its taste and quality, but also for the sake of energy efficiency and the well-being of the future generation.

The panels displayed by aFewSteps.org indicated that when a consumer buys food in the supermarket, only 18 cents of every dollar goes to the grower. However, if consumers choose to buy local food, their behavior can promote the economic stability of the family farms in the community and give these farms incentives to continue growing healthy, tasty food.

A young girl enjoyed a sample of bread at Saturday’s festival in the Ville. (Julia Carleton/The Phoenix)

At the event, aFewSteps.org also offered tips about how to save energy. According to the organization, instead of storing frozen food, people should buy more real food ingredients because cooking frozen food is a “three-fold energy hit”: processing the food, keeping it in the refrigerator and reheating it all require the consumption of energy and electricity.

Meanwhile, the organization indicates that people using tap water have been proven to be more environmentally friendly than those who buy bottled water. Each year, 47 million gallons of oil are used to produce plastic water bottles.

The hands-on farmers’ market of the Real Food Festival provided visitors with the opportunity to learn how to make flavorful food using the ingredients from local farmers.

The butter-making process was displayed on leaflets, as was the way to prepare all kinds of desserts, vegetables and salads. Blueberry cobbler, pumpkin cake and broccoli with cream sauce are all included in a recipe book by Irene Bown Harvey. This book is provided by Nancy Bernhardt, the owner of the farm Indian Orchards where people can pick their own fruit in different seasons.

The Greener Partners, an organization that also participated in the Grow, Cook, Eat event, displayed the way to make healthy snacks using the vegetables and fruits grown on their farms. The farms also have a strong educational focus.

Jessica Cummings, the Americorps VISTA Development and Outreach Associate of Greener Partners, mentioned one of their education programs called Seed to Snack. In this program, foods from their farms were brought into elementary schools in the area to help students get a sense of how various foods are produced under local conditions.

The organization also worked with Swarthmore students last year through the Chester Community Fellowship program in Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility at the college. The fellows volunteered as farm workers in Greener Partners and learned about farming issues.

To think about everyday food choice seems like a trivial thing but can actually exert a great change on the environment.

BrownGold quoted Wendell Berry, a well-known food writer: “Eating is a political act.” According to both Berry and BrownGold, if one refuses to have food that is negative to the environment, then other students will respond similarly. This effect can ultimately pass to the whole community and cause a change.

BrownGold offered some suggestions on how individuals, especially college students, can contribute to sustainability in food choices. “You really start by asking questions: ask the food service people what are they doing to promote sustainability, who are they buying from, what are their resources, how do they make their choices about suppliers and how they prepare the food. Ask these questions everyday.”

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