March 18, 2010 in Idaho

NIC forum addresses bridging the grower-food gap

Volunteers take to heart a college symposium on sustainability by building a garden to be filled with vegetables and herbs
By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo

Volunteer J.D. Barker, left, and Max Mendez, communications, fine arts and humanities division chairman at North Idaho College, work to build a community garden in a vacant lot near the college in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

About a dozen people gathered on a Coeur d’Alene street corner Wednesday afternoon to build a raised bed that will become North Idaho College’s first community garden.

The garden project was one of several hands-on projects included in a weeklong college symposium that explores sustainability from a variety of angles, including food, waste, water and power. Other events included speeches, movies, panel discussions and displays of recycling, water conservation and electric vehicles.

Wednesday’s “Sustainability 101” events focused on food and included a speech by Jennifer Hall, community food builder for the Main Market Co-op in Spokane.

Hall started her presentation by showing an advertisement featuring a tall, thin, stylish woman standing before closets brimming with clothes, handbags and accessories. Living in a small apartment in a large city didn’t leave much room for the woman’s wardrobe, so she converted her kitchen cabinets into closets, the advertisement showed.

While comical, Hall said, the ad represents how disconnected people have become from the food they eat. People will spend hundreds of dollars on a handbag, but “hiccup” over a $2 tomato, she said.

“That tomato is going in you,” Hall told an audience of about 70 people at NIC.

When she asked how many people in the audience eat, every hand went up. But when she asked how many thought they made a difference in the global food industry, few hands were raised. Hall said she hoped to convince them otherwise because everyone’s food purchasing decisions influence the way food is produced.

“Everybody here can make a difference in the food system,” Hall said. “In fact, you can start today.”

The community garden builders took that sentiment to heart later that afternoon by nailing together boards for a 4-by-8-foot raised bed and filling it with soil. The vegetable and herb garden will be planted in May and harvested in August, said Rachel Dolezal, chairwoman of Sustainability 101.

Committee members talked of building at least two other beds and putting gardens elsewhere on campus.

“A nice dream would be rooftop gardens on some of our buildings,” said Max Mendez, chairman of NIC’s communications, fine arts and humanities division.

Dolezal said produce from the garden would go to the people who tended it and possibly to college programs, such as Emory’s, the student-run restaurant. The committee also talked about donating produce to Community Roots, a nonprofit program that collects produce from gardens and distributes it to soup kitchens and food banks.

The weeklong symposium, called Cardinal Connections, replaces the Popcorn Forum, a 38-year speaker series that ended in 2008 when founder Tony Stewart retired. It is sponsored by NIC, the Associated Students of NIC and the Human Rights Education Institute.

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