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Harvest dinners mark change of seasons

Posted: 10/16/2009

All good things must come to an end and so it was with the first-ever Skidmore Student Garden, whose growing season concluded in early October.

The brainchild of Laura Fralich ’11, the Skidmore Student Garden was more than a year in planning before the first shovel of dirt was turned last April. The goal of the garden was to offer an experiential learning opportunity surrounding the ecology of food. In addition, Fralich wanted to provide fresh, organically grown food to Skidmore’s Dining Services, to be served in the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall.

Despite a summer of record rainfall and visits by hungry wildlife, the garden yielded a strong harvest. A total of 1, 138 pounds of vegetables–including an array of summer and winter squash; lettuce; peas; peppers; cucumbers; eggplant; leeks; carrots; beets; and radishes–were picked and prepared over the summer and early fall. To foster production, the student gardeners employed organic practices: composting, weeding by hand, and no pesticides.

To mark the season’s end and to celebrate the garden’s success as well as local food in the dining hall, two harvest dinners recently took place. The first, held Oct. 3 in Falstaff’s, had a menu featuring roasted acorn squash with cranberries, apples, beets, and carrots; root vegetable mash (carrots, potatoes, beets, and squash), homemade pasta with homemade pesto, and potato-leek soup. Students harvested at the garden and prepared the food in Skidmore’s test kitchen, and in addition provided musical entertainment. More than 150 people attended the dinner, a response that Fralich said was surprising and gratifying.

Proceeds from the event totaled nearly $400, which will be used for next year’s garden. Those funds will be added to a $400 contribution from the Skidmore chefs who participated in the recent Toyota Farm-to-Table Cooking Challenge at the Saratoga Farmers Market.

A second Harvest Dinner, held Oct. 8 in Murray-Aikins Dining Hall, promoted the theme “Pride of New York.” This celebration of local food featured student garden produce as well as products from the following: Quandt’s, a regional food distributor; Denison Farm; Pleasant Valley Farm; Kilpatrick Farm; Saratoga Apple; West Village Market; and Otrembiak Farms.

Executive Chef Jim Rose designed the dinner to highlight local food with such dishes as roasted pumpkin and squash bisque, a farmer's market salad, and Indian curried stuffed acorn squash. Rose shared his thoughts on using the produce this past summer. The vegetables and herbs, were “beautiful,” he said. “The produce exceeded expectations,” added Rose. “It was exciting to use in dishes.” The challenge for the Dining Services staff was the matter of quantity. “We didn’t always know how much we would have,” explained Rose. “So it was like a mystery box for us. We utilized whatever we received and we made a point of noting, through the use of signs, that the vegetables being served that day came from the Student Garden.”

A number of people helped with the Skidmore Student Garden, including Erica Fuller, the College’s sustainability coordinator; Skidmore's Dining Services; North Woods stewards Peter Leipzig Scott ’09 and Sarah Green ’11; Sparkseed, which provided a start-up grant; and the Responsible Citizenship Task Force, which also provided financial support. Skidmore's Facilities Services, the Grounds Department in particular, was also tremendously supportive.

Reflecting on the project, Fralich said her challenges included the logistics of organizing and generating support, particularly for harvesting. The best thing? “Having our harvest dinner celebration with so many people coming out to support the garden.”

Said Fuller, “This was an incredible pilot year. Laura worked so hard and so responsibly. I’m proud of her.” The garden is well positioned for revival next year, with funds in the bank and interest from several students to plan and plant in 2010. Fralich, who will be studying in India during spring semester 2010, said, “It’s been a learning process for me to do the garden, and to let it go. But with Erica available to provide guidance, and support from the administration and other students, there is a mechanism in place that will sustain the garden project.”

Photos by:
Carolyn Raider '10
Savannah Grier'12
Angela Casone'12
Gabriella Stern'13
Laura Fralich '11
Hannah Mode'11
Robert Howell'10