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Oberlin College project promotes locally grown food


OBERLIN — Chefs at Oberlin College introduced some unique menu items to students Monday, including bison with a mushroom demi glaze and pork loin roast with peach butter sauce.

The menu additions were all made from locally grown and raised products as part of the Eat Local Challenge. As a requirement, the chefs had to prepare each meal using ingredients harvested within 150 miles of the kitchen.

It was the ninth year that Bon Appetit Management Co. at Oberlin College participated in the Eat Local Challenge. The idea behind the event is to encourage people to look beyond the supermarket and seek out food growing around them.

Kevin Chaney, a chef for Bon Appetit, prepared a White Feather Bison Salisbury steak with Valley City mushroom demi glaze. He used local purveyors such as Yellow House Cheese in Medina, Jones Farm in Oberlin and Johnston’s raspberry farm in Swanton to create the side dishes and the raspberry cobbler dessert.

Chaney said the challenge of finding local ingredients wasn’t too difficult.

“The most difficult thing was running from town to town to pick it up,” he said.

Rick Panfil, the general manager of Bon Appetit Management Co., said it was difficult at first to complete the challenge but easier after cultivating relationships with local farmers. Buying locally wasn’t more expensive, he added.

Bon Appetit Management Co., which is employed as Oberlin College’s food service provider, has already been looking for food locally. As part of its Farm to Fork program, a companywide initiative, Bon Appetit chefs are required to purchase at least 20 percent of their ingredients from small, owner-operating farms and ranches within 150 miles.

“Bon Appetit Management was the only company, at the time, to have such an initiative,” Panfil said about the program, which started in 1999.

The Eat Local Challenge began as an outgrowth of the Farm to Fork program. Panfil said it’s important to look for local products for a variety of reasons.

“I think it helps to sustain the economy in which you work in. I think it’s putting dollars back into the community, and then you’re creating that relationship (with local farmers) for good food,” he said.

Eric Pecherkiewicz, an Oberlin College dietitian, said nutrition can also be lost when food travels across the U.S.

“Vitamins can break down over time when they’re exposed to sunlight, heat,” he said.

On Monday, students crowded the dining halls at Dascomb, Wilder-Rathskeller and Stevenson. Many of them chose to eat the local meal.

Students, like Sarah Francis, said she appreciated Oberlin College’s effort to provide local food. Francis said she only eats locally grown meat, although she tries to look for other local ingredients as well.

“Large-scale American meat production is scary, and I don’t like not knowing what I’m eating,” she said.

Sophomore Alex Berger, who ate the New Creation Farm pork loin roast with house-grown herbs and Miller’s peach butter sauce, said she enjoyed the meal.

“From what I do hear, it’s important to eat locally… You’re supporting your local industry. If more people eat locally, things would be better,” she said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or

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