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UST Picnic- Brats and Potato Salad Meet Long Beans, Thai Eggplant and Daikon

September 20, 2011
Pang Kou setting up!

Hundreds of students sporting purple t-shirts spilled out onto the campus lawn to enjoy their first-day-of-school picnic. A white open-air tent sat in their midst, where Robert and Nancy Lee and their daughter Pang Kou set up tables loaded with fresh seasonal vegetables, including some not-so-familiar Asian vegetables – long purple beans,  little round greenish Thai eggplant and long thick white daikon radish.

Irish UST student eyes the veggies

A first-year student from Ireland eyed the spread– proclaimed the produce looked wonderful and that he enjoys cooking with fresh food. After studying the market a bit, another student approached, a little timidly at first, to explain that he had one pan and a single burner and asked about which vegetables he could cook in it and how. Pang Kou adeptly suggested several vegetables that he could simply stir-fry together. Faculty and staff also stopped by – delighted to see farmers and their fare on campus. For the Lees, fortune turned a corner after enduring extensive crop damage due to harsh weather.  A second planting was in the fields with the hopes of recovering the loss. The interest from the students, staff and faculty was uplifting.

Pang Kou, Robert and Nancy Lee

Earlier that morning, the Lees delivered their first boxes of vegetables to the Binz Refectory kitchen at St. Thomas – hopefully a farm-to-university partnership in the making. UST Dining Service Director, Todd Empanger and Executive Chefs Kenneth Grogg and Andrew Casale, met earlier in the year with Theresa Heiland, Local Foods Coordinator for The Minnesota Project and Hli Xyooj, Hmong Outreach Coordinator/Staff Attorney for the Farmers’ Legal Action Group to discuss buying fresh produce direct from local farmers.

Long Beans

With enthusiasm – and a little trepidation, they agreed to “start with one farmer and see how it goes.”  Large institutions are accustomed to buying great quantities of fresh and frozen food from distributors, who source products from across the country. But like many college campuses, Empanger says students are more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown. In 2010, UST students were instrumental in starting a garden on campus, where “hands-on” activities are combined with curriculum.

Seeds have been planted for a strong local food system – by the students growing crops on campus and by chefs inviting farmers into their kitchen. Maybe there is a bright future for real food. Kudos University of St. Thomas!

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