Last fall, about midday on Sept. 20, John McLean revved up his tractor and headed over to Holloway Commons. The manager of UNH's Woodman Farm had about 500 pounds of apples on his hands—Honey Crisps, Mutsus, Pioneer Macs, Macouns, Ginger Golds, Cortlands and more, plus loads of information about locally and sustainably grown produce. He parked his tractor in front of the dining hall, arranged his bins of apples, and settled in for the third annual Local Harvest Dinner.
"I wouldn't miss it," says McLean, who handed out apples and information as diners passed by. "More than a wonderful meal, the Harvest Dinner helps so many people be more aware of where food comes from and what's out there locally."
About 3,700 people attended this year's dinner—up from 1,600 three years ago, when the event was launched over in Philbrook. "It's really outgrown just one building," says David Hill '84, area manager of Holloway Commons, who is thinking ahead to next year and trying to figure out if the Harvest Dinner could take place in all three dining halls. "That would mean about 8,000 diners," he muses, doing the calculations. "That's a big challenge."
Local farmers aren't used to huge orders, says Hill, who contacts Harvest Dinner providers in the spring so they can prepare. He reels off some of the most popular menu items among the dozens of choices: bison burgers from Yankee Farmer's Market in Warner, N.H.; venison medallions from Bonnie Brae Farms in Plymouth; roast chicken from Lasting Legacy Farm in Barrington. "And there's always a crowd in front of the Tuscan curd pizza," he notes. The curd, "which melts perfectly," comes from Silvery Moon Creamery in Westbrook, Maine, and is seasoned with garlic, red pepper and parsley to give it an Italian zing. Since the beginning, the Local Harvest Dinner has been more than a tasty dinner. "We started talking right away about how we can incorporate local and regional foods, as well as sustainably grown things, all year round," says El Farrell '01, program coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, a partner with UNH Dining Services in the production of the Harvest Dinner. Pete & Gerry's Eggs from Monroe, N.H.; Swiss cheese from Boggy Meadow Farm in Walpole; local milk from Hood—these food items have become staples in the UNH dining rooms. Sustainably grown fair-trade coffee is also offered all year long.
And some of the produce, like the Woodman Farm apples, comes right from campus. For this year's event, UNH's Organic Garden Club supplied 80 pounds of mixed greens for the salads, red Russian kale for the kale soup, and green and red opal basil for the pesto, along with a mix of other vegetables. Members of the club were also, perhaps, among the most appreciative diners. "Any farmer can tell you it feels wonderful to eat food that you grew yourself," says Diana Laurenitis-Bonacci '07, farm manager. "Farming has taught me to be humble, because so many people don't know how hard it is to actually grow good-tasting, healthy vegetables."
Mac Griffin '08, Organic Garden Club president, sees the dinner as a delicious and badly needed educational tool. "It shows that UNH sees the larger sustainability picture. Supporting local farmers promotes a healthy community and can provide citizens with a direct connection to the people who grow their food." As something of a farmer himself, Griffin knows it's a slow process, but he's convinced that every little bit—er, bite—helps.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents