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Local food movement takes root on campus

by Denise Fitzpatrick, communications and marketing last modified Jun 20, 2013 03:53 PM

Growing pumpkins from seed and shucking sweet corn from his family’s garden are among Nathan Bush’s earliest childhood memories.

Local food movement takes root on campus

The Root Cellar comes to Belknap Campus to sell veggies farmers market style on Thursdays.

Logan Ernst remembers carrying food scraps out to the compost bin when he was 8 years old—his first household chore—while Iracema Drew’s parents reared her to be vegetarian and taught her to avoid junk food.

Today, all three young adults are working to convince UofL’s faculty, staff and students that consuming more local food is the way to go.

This spring, Bush, who received a master’s degree in urban planning from UofL in May, led an effort to turn an empty 4,000-square-foot field behind the Urban Studies Institute at Fourth and Bloom streets into a community horticulture zone.

In tandem with the university’s Physical Plant employees, he designed a plan for a diverse, park-like area to replace a grassy, unused field that needed constant mowing.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, he and other volunteers—mostly urban studies faculty and students and their families—began transforming the field into an area with raised garden beds and native plants. On part of the tract, they raked up grass and sowed red clover seed, a plant that needs no mowing and adds nitrogen to the soil.

So far, they’ve planted tomatoes, kale and sweet potatoes, set up two rain barrels they plan to connect to the building’s downspouts and are gathering food waste from UofL’s dining service and other sources they plan to turn into compost.

“I’ve always had an affinity for growing things,” said Bush, whose primary interest is urban ecology. “We need to find more ways to connect people to the green space we have in the city, to make it something special.”

“People today are beginning to see convenience food as a health risk,” he added. “Local food is becoming a lot more important to them.”

Ernst, a UofL senior from Cumberland County, shares that opinion.

Ernst works for Grasshoppers, a Louisville online local food grocery, performing a multitude of local-food related tasks for the company. He picks up food from farms, inspects its quality, takes it to the warehouse and drives it to customers in a refrigerated truck. Every Thursday, he delivers food baskets to people on Belknap Campus who take part in UofL’s Community Supported Agriculture program.

A native of Cumberland County, Kentucky, Ernst said the job has changed his life.

“I’ve built relationships with farmers, business owners and people in the community, learned about sustainable farming and become educated about the types of produce, the nutritional value of different varieties and how to store and cook it.”

Coming to Louisville from rural Kentucky was a “culture shock” he said.

“When I came to UofL I was living on my own for the first time. I went from eating my mom’s home cooking to eating at Wendy’s, Subway and McDonald’s, and I noticed a change in my health.”

Working at Grasshoppers turned all that around, he said.

“Now, if I’m not eating Grasshoppers food, I buy food from the Root Cellar or I dine at local restaurants like Eiderdown that support local farmers, knowing that the cost is well worth it.”

The Root Cellar, a retail food grocery at 954 E. Kentucky St., recently started selling locally produced vegetables, meats and dairy products on Belknap Campus. The store sets up in the University Club parking lot every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Drew, a recent graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, is working as an intern this summer in the office of UofL Associate Vice President Mitchell Payne, who has been working for more than four years to make local food more available on campus.

Drew, a creative writing major, enjoys writing about food and food culture, she said.

“I buy organic food even though it’s more expensive. We need to get more local, healthy food into poor neighborhoods and school lunches. It needs to be accessible to everyone.”

Yani Vozos, a graduate adviser working with Bush to develop the no-mow zone and urban garden behind Urban Studies Institute, said he thinks planting, growing and eating local food does more than just keep people healthy—it brings them together with a common purpose.

“People in our building are really committed to this project,” he said. “It’s brought faculty, staff and students together, and it’s given them a sense of community.”

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