The fifth annual ISU Local Food Festival: An Adventure in Eating and Community brought information about local produce to thousands of Iowa State students and faculty Wednesday on Central Campus.
A total of 32 tents were set up along Central Campus, each with an Iowa business or Iowa State student organization to showcase the importance of local produce at the food festival.
In some tents, representatives or students were handing out free food samples or selling locally grown and produced products such as baked bread and cookies.
“It was cool to see that each of the booths [showed] how far the food had traveled,” said Cassandra Olesen, senior in journalism and mass communication. “I really liked that ‘cause there’s such an emphasis on the local element. It was good to see where the food came from.”
RJ Green, strategic planner with the office of sustainability, said the Local Food Festival is a way to promote awareness of all the local food that Iowa has to offer.
“We’ve also got a lot of good student organizations that are doing a lot of sustainability initiatives,” Green said. “[...] we’re really stoked to get this many organizations together in one place, raise a profile of our sustainability efforts and our efforts to the community too; every vendor at this event has come from Iowa.”
The Local Food Festival is all about sharing the importance of local food and how to source sustainable food. Those who attended the festival were able to walk around to any organization they wanted to learn more about.
Green said some of the student organizations, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Student Association (SASA) and the ISU Good Earth Student Farm, grow their own food. The organizations work to share information about food, including where it comes from and the other aspects of it.
Iowa is a great place to produce locally grown products as much of it is farmland. Also, not only farms or larger organizations can produce these products. Everyone can participate by having their own garden and paying attention to food labels.
“You do the environment a big favor by planting a garden every year — even if it’s just native plants — but you yourself can grow a lot of your own food and it’s not that hard,” Green said. “We live in the bread basket of the world, we stand on the most fertile soil in the country. It’s very easy to just throw some seeds in the ground and have peppers, tomatoes, whatever you like at the end of the summer with not a whole lot of effort, just a little bit of water, a little bit of love.”
Some students experienced the food festival almost by accident as they stopped by after noticing all of the tents. Leah Cosgrove, senior in kinesiology and health, did just that along with Olesen.
Cosgrove and Olesen walked through the tents and talked with a few organizations. They learned how each organization takes part in providing local products for Iowa State. The food festival encouraged students to think all areas of food.
“I think in everything nowadays it’s very much production, how we can cut down on things,” Cosgrove said. “We realize that local is better in terms of food production and transportation and stuff and so I think just the way things are going, it’s important to realize that there are things here in Iowa that we can choose to eat that you don’t have to get from some place really far away, and it cuts down on everything.”
Sustainability was a significant topic of the Local Food Festival. Iowa State encourages its students to be aware of living sustainably and Iowa State faculty and staff members are advocating for "greener" events.
Ayodeji Oluwalana, recycling and special events coordinator in the facilities planning and management department, organized services for the festival and supervised it to ensure the event ran smoothly.
“This year we’re providing — alongside trash cans — recycling cans for the Local Food Festival just to make sure we divert as much waste as possible,” Oluwalana said.
Oluwalana said he and his team hope event organizers can think of ways to make their events zero waste and they can email firstname.lastname@example.org if they want to reduce the waste during the events.
The Local Food Festival also offered a unique opportunity to students: eating a cricket. Shelby Smith, from Gym-N-Eat Crickets, had a table at the festival to inform students of the nutritional value of crickets and supplied free cricket samples.
“So crickets are between 60 and 70 percent protein by dry weight, so double the protein of beef," Smith said. They have more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, good source of vitamin B12, Omega 6 and 3. Takes a fraction of food, water and land to raise the same amount of protein in crickets than it would for a cow, pig or chicken.”
The crickets available came in several flavors including smokey bbq and ranch. Those brave enough to taste test the bugs were given an “I ate a cricket” sticker.
The Local Food Festival also provided students with the opportunity of joining the organizations.
Clayton Mills, sophomore in computer science, signed up for the Iowa Farmers Union after learning about the organization at their tent.
“It seemed pretty interesting and I guess kind of on a whim,” Mills said. “I like to participate in things [...] If it seems interesting and something that I might enjoy doing, I go for it.”
Mills said going through the tents showed him just how much agriculture representation Iowa State has to offer.
“Not being in any agriculture major, this definitely informed me on a lot of stuff,” Mills said. “So this is definitely an experience to go to.”
The faculty and staff that organized the event were enthusiastic about the festival’s purpose and were there to answer any questions people had and help them navigate the tents.
“It’s a delicious and informative event that celebrates all of our local food and the producers that give us this delicious local food,” said Merry Rankin, program manager in the facilities planning and management department and director of sustainability. “We’re just super excited to offer this to students and to make those connections so hopefully they’ll continue to seek out our local producers and support our local economy and those that we depend upon so much.”
The Local Food Festival got its start in 2015 as a collaboration effort with the Farm, Food and Enterprise Development Program, ISU Dining, ISU’s Live Green! Initiative, the ISU Sustainable Agriculture Student Association and more, according to Iowa State’s Farm, Food and Enterprise Development website.