In the Midwest eating local can seem easy during the summer when farmer’s markets are full of produce. In the winter though, eating locally can be a bit more challenging.
Nonetheless several Monmouth College students are trying to do just that.
In the fall of 2011 several students asked the college if they could live together in a house the college owned next to the school’s newly created educational garden.
Since then a rotating group of students has lived in the “Garden House” and worked in and lived off the garden.
Will Terrill is an English major who's lived in the house since it began in 2011. He said the best way to learn about how they eat local, even when it gets cold, was to come and have supper.
When I first arrived at the garden house they gave me tour of the grounds. Just outside of the garden plots were several bee hives and fruit trees.
This summer the residents built a green-house out of recycled materials that allow them to have fresh greens even in the winter months.
Inside, shelves are filled with canned tomatoes from summer and the dining room has large chest freezer filled with the summer’s harvest.
Allison Razo said living in the house has changed the way she eats. It made her realize the reason she didn’t like some foods was because of where she was getting them from.
“I didn’t really like tomatoes that much but I eat tomatoes from the garden, just picking them and eating them and like, these are delicious!” Razo said. “And then if I go to the super market, I think that’s not how a tomatoes tastes, or that’s not how carrots actually taste. It’s different than when you grow them.”
Will Terrill said that Razo isn’t the only person to discover that maybe the reason they don’t like some foods is because of the way they’re grown.
“That’s something we learned this fall,” Terrill said. “We’d have kids from Chicago come visit the garden and say ‘I don’t like tomatoes’ then they would eat our tomatoes and say ‘ooh I like that, whatever that is’.”
Educational and outreach programs are part of the “garden program.” The college’s curriculum also offers several garden themed courses.
For the night's supper we’re had something that demonstrated the housemates' ability to combine what they have in creative ways, squash and sweet potato tacos with rice, lentils, and Swiss chard.
Almost everything was grown in the garden. Terrill said it requires a different thought process to make use of what you have instead of simply going to the grocery store and buying everything that’s needed for a recipe.
“You have to run through your head and think what’s in season,” Terril said, “ what’s on the vine or what’s in the freezer and what can I make out of that.”
A few of the ingredients for tonight’s meal, such as the tortillas, came from the grocery store. But Terrill said they try to keep what they buy from the grocery store to minimum.
He said they usually spend only around 160 dollars per month at the grocery store for all four people in the house.
Connor Shields, is a senior majoring in Art and Philosophy, he said it’s more work to make meals from scratch, but it’s more than worth it for the peace of mind they get.
“I really like the satisfaction of eating here cause we can boil each of our meals down to seven ingredients, tops,” Shields said.
They also dehydrate some of the produce from the summer, instead of freezing or canning it, by using a more than 10 foot tall solar dehydrator called “helios.”
Monmouth’s garden program also has added a six acre farm plot this spring that will include a hoop house and an orchard. Will Terrill said they will use the lessons learned from working with the house’s garden at the new farm.
“The idea is that as the six acres grows the garden program will grow as well and hopefully we’ll get some curriculum to go along with it,” Terrill said, “ we’ll get more students involved we have sustainability scholarships that we give out, 10 each year a pretty sizable amount, so we’re hoping that draws people to the program and eventually we’ll have a gardening and farming program as big as some other colleges.”
Connor Shields says the additional space will allow them to give food back to the community and, eventually, they might even start their own CSA.