As Sam Meyer ’10 tossed potato culls to the pigs penned at Common Thread Community Farm, he said Professor Chris Henke’s honors-level Food course gave him an appreciation of the work that goes into raising local produce.
“And the fact that the farm’s owners, Amy Brown and Chris Babis, are so young makes this experience more accessible,” said Meyer, who was actually a shareholder at Common Thread before he learned about Henke’s class. “My student share runs from August through October.”
Meyer, a native of Saranac Lake in northern New York, said he would like to find work related to agriculture. That interest got Meyer into Henke’s class.
Said Henke: “After I made this long speech about not adding anyone to the class, Sam came to my office to say, ‘I want to be a farmer — learning about food is more than just another class to me.’”
Feeding her passion
“So much brought me to the realization of what I want to do with my life,” said Nina Merrill ’10, who’s about to go pro with her interest in sustainable foods. “I don’t think this ever would have happened if every piece of the puzzle didn’t fall into place like it did at Colgate.”
Merrill has become an online publisher of information about efforts to bring organic food to college campuses nationwide. After an internship with a New York law firm convinced Merrill that the law was not her calling, she took stock of her other interests. “My passion was nutrition, but I didn’t want to be a nutritionist.”
She accepted a summer position with the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in 2008, initially researching what students were saying online about organic foods. “There’s this huge movement on college campuses toward local, sustainable, organic food, but nothing was being discussed online.” The OTA encouraged her to drop her research project and start a blog, which she did: Organic on the Green: A Blog to Feed the Organic Revolution in Campus Dining.
Merrill thought she would have trouble finding contributors (“Who wants to write an essay for free if you’re in college?”), but the response has been so great that she has trouble fitting everyone in. She has compiled some of the best advice from the blog into a downloadable handbook, Taste the Change: How to Go Organic on Campus. On a summer 2009 internship, Merrill created yet another guide, Student Gardens and Food Service, for aspiring student organic farmers.
Issues with her own health had actually raised the stakes for Merrill when it came to her concerns about where the food in campus dining halls might come from. Debilitating migraines had caused her to drop out of school for a semester shortly after she arrived on campus. Doctors back home on Long Island traced the cause of the migraines to food allergies.
“The first thing I did when I came back was to meet with George Murray and others at Frank Dining Hall to tell them about all my allergies and health concerns. They were unbelievably devoted to making sure I had a good dining experience.”
When officials at the food service’s parent company, Sodexo, learned about Merrill’s situation, they asked her to join a national student board of directors.
After completing her coursework in December (she majored in women’s studies and minored in film and media studies), Merrill was hired at a company that specializes in sustainable foods.
Local Fare at Frank Dining Hall
A Sampler November 6–12
Organic Yogurt (Chobani, South Edmeston)
Natural Gourmet Home-Baked Cereal (Upstate Harvest, Bainbridge)
Fresh Bagels (Bagel Grove, Utica)
Milk and yogurt (Crowley Foods, Binghamton)
Breakfast Sausage Links and Patties (made by Purdy & Sons, Sherburne, N.Y., with pork raised at J&D Farms, Georgetown, or S&C Farm, Mohawk)
Lunch and Dinner
Butternut Squash (Common Thread Community Farm, Madison) and Lentils
Black Bean Nachos (Cayuga Pure Organics, Brooktondale/Ithaca)
Broiled Flank Steak, Szechuan Style (Purdy & Sons)
Roasted Mustard-Crusted Pork Loin (Purdy & Sons)
Creamy Potato and Leek Soup (Common Thread)
Beef Chili with Smoky Red Beans (Cayuga Pure Organics and Purdy & Sons)
Brussels Sprouts (Common Thread)
Black, Navy, and Red Kidney Beans at the Organic Salad Bar (Cayuga Pure Organics)
Marinara Sauce (The Pasta Shop, Utica)
Whole foods harvest
As one of their course requirements, students in Professor Chris Henke’s general education course Food spent time each week working at nearby Common Thread Community Farm this past fall. Henke’s students helped bring in:
• 1,850 pounds of potatoes
• 3,200 pounds of carrots
• 600 pounds of beets
• 250 pounds of parsnips
• 450 pounds of leeks
• 2,000 pounds of red and