BLOOMINGTON - Don't take Leslie Coleman and Jeff Scott the wrong way. It's not that they dislike the food in the Illinois Wesleyan University dining room.
When it comes to food choices, they happen to just be well grounded. Coleman grew up on a farm near Harmon, while Scott spent his youth in the middle of farm country at Decorah, Iowa. More importantly, both have worked on organic farms.
So, when a permanent committee called the Green Network formed on campus, they jumped at the chance to bring locally grown food to their fellow students.
The committee of students, staff, administration and faculty will be among the first Illinois colleges to offer locally grown food on campus as early as this summer. IWU will join a growing number of colleges and universities already providing locally grown food, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Montana and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
"Everything is shipped so far. There's a big energy input to bringing food here," said Scott, a senior who interned at a Wisconsin organic farm last summer. "Family farms are becoming economically obsolete, and locally owned operations can keep families on the farm. There's also accountability from local growers who take pride in quality."
As environmental studies majors, Coleman, a junior, and Scott are passionate about the environment. They see the locally grown food movement expanding rapidly, and want to make fellow IWU students aware.
"It actually began in fall 2000 when we formed a Green Task Force. Given Harper (a biology professor) and I were co-directors," said Abby Jahiel, an environmental and international studies associate professor. "The task force wanted to see how the university was impacting the environment. We looked at recycling and energy conservation."
A project aimed at reducing plastic in the dining room prompted discussion of organic and locally grown food. Jahiel is a member of Henry's CSA, a community supported agriculture venture near Congerville owned by Henry Brockman. The CSA delivers a weekly box of organic food to subscribers during the growing season.
Jahiel became acquainted with Terra Brockman, Henry's sister, who serves as executive director of The Land Connection at Congerville. The group helps people start and operate locally grown, organic food production businesses.
"There are many barriers on the road from farm to university cafeteria plate, especially if the food is locally grown. The main issue - one The Land Connection is continually working on - is the lack of farmers growing fruits and vegetables, and the lack of a local system to coordinate efforts between farmers and local institutional food purchasers," said Brockman, who helped coordinate efforts among students, growers and IWU's food service provider, Sodexho.
Brockman said Coleman and Scott succeeded in building a coalition with fellow students, farmers, Sodexho and campus dining services. Scott was instrumental in connecting with students at other universities who had successfully brought locally grown food to their dining halls.
Coleman called farmers listed in Farm Direct, a statewide registry of local food growers. She's hoping to hit pay dirt with apple grower Tim Carr of Carlock.
"I'm considering supplying apples," said Carr, who owns Carr's Orchard near El Paso. "The problem is we're not a big orchard. I could probably fill weekly orders for Wesleyan by buying other Illinois apples, but I must supply my customers who come to the farm first."
Coleman, who interned last year at Blue Schoolhouse Farm owned by Bill and Mercy Davison of Congerville, said she's been surprised that securing growers has been the biggest problem. The concerns of 30 other growers mirror those of Carr - supplying a steady volume and delivering food on a regular basis.
"We thought that working with food service would be the biggest problem," said Coleman.
David Nicholson, IWU dining room manager for Sodexho, said students drive changes in dining fare. Recently, Sodexho contracted with an organic food provider to bring organic yogurt, hormone-free milk, fruit and Naked organic juices to the Dugout in the lower level of the Memorial Student Center.
"We offer an organic food bar once a week with salads and vegetables. We've also served farm-raised chicken. The students perceive it well," said Nicholson. "One other goal we have is to bring a farmer's market to campus."
Scott said he hopes to see all types of locally grown vegetables and fruits offered to students. Green Network members chose apples and potatoes to begin the effort because of durability and ease of introduction.
"We would like to see a percentage of the campus food budget - maybe 2 or 3 percent relatively soon - be spent on locally grown food," said Coleman.