May 19, 2010
The best college education experiences do not always involve computers, books and classrooms. For most Luther College students, Sunday afternoon is a time reserved for homework, papers and studying. But, on Sunday, May 9, eight Luther students spent an afternoon participating in a local foods tour and dinner party hosted by Jason Skarin, a member of the Luther dining services staff.
Purchased by the eight students when they took part in the Winneshiek County Habitat for Humanity Dinner Auction fundraiser on Thursday, April 15, the food tour and dinner party consisted of a variety of dishes, each of which included food from producers in the Decorah area. Skarin donated his preparation of the multi-person meal to the Habitat for Humanity Auction.
“Rachel Vagts suggested we bid on a local foods meal prepared by Jason, and we are all so glad we did,” said Luther student Inga Rohde.
The dinner bid winners included Luther students Lisa Diviney, Eric Eitrheim, Katie Goodroad, Kim Larson, Ben Marple, Abby Nance, Beth Tuller and Rohde.
“When we signed up for the meal, we had no idea we would get to experience an eight-hour, epic adventure visiting so many wonderful places in the Decorah area,” said Marple.
Accompanied by Dan Bellrichard, Luther sustainability coordinator; Maren Stumme-Diers, Luther assistant sustainability coordinator; and Rachel Vagts, Luther College archivist and Habitat for Humanity coordinator, the group began their adventure at the home of Skarin and Brita Nelson, touring their gardens.
“We ate delicious hors d’oeuvres, toured their home gardens and saw where the radishes and mint for our meal were grown,” said Stumme-Diers. “Throughout the day we saw many unique models of gardening, but the students seemed inspired by seeing how beautiful and productive a city lot can be.”
The group then made a sightseeing stop at Upper Dam on the Upper Iowa River before driving to the River Root Farm where Luther graduates Mike Bollinger and Katie Prochaska operate a greenhouse and moveable hoophouse in which they grow garden plant starts and experiment with seasonal extensions.
This year, they are selling micro-greens to the Oneota Co-op and other local restaurants. They provided some greens for the salads Skarin would prepare for the evening dinner.
Bollinger and Prochaska are providing advice for the planting and care of one of the Luther Gardens, a college project implemented in 2004 to promote food sustainability on campus and educate students, staff and faculty about Luther’s sustainability efforts.
Leaving River Root Farms, the group made a sightseeing visit to the Lower Dam on the Upper Iowa River before making their way to Margie Wikan’s farm in Canoe to visit her extensive gardens and free-range chickens.
“We all absolutely loved this place,” said Goodroad. “It was amazing to explore the gardens and see the hens and baby chicks.”
“Margie has beautiful gardens,” said Stumme-Diers, “some of which she weeds with the chickens by putting them in round cages and placing them between the rows.”
The Wikans’ chickens provided the eggs that Skarin prepared as the appetizer of deviled eggs for the group. He also talked about the trout available in the nearby, spring-fed, cold water streams of northern Winneshiek County.
The tour made a stop at the Sattre Store, one of the few remaining old-time general stores in the state, before making their way to Grass Run Farms, operated by Ryan and Kristine Jepsen. At Grass Run Farms, the group picked up cream to be used on the two rhubarb desserts included in the meal. The venison roasts and bacon were also provided by Grass Run Farms.
“The Jepsens really praised the talented Luther cafeteria staff who work to make grass-fed meats work on campus,” said Stumme-Diers. “This was a great opportunity for the students to learn that Luther is purchasing nearly 100 percent grass-fed beef and pork, and to visit the place that is helping to make that possible.”
“It was neat to see how Jason is doing such a great job of reaching out to and working with local producers,” said Diviney. “His hard work and passion to increase the local foods available at Luther is refreshing to witness.”
From Grass Run Farms, the group traveled to a private cabin in the woodlands on the border of Iowa and Minnesota, the final destination of their dinner preparation tour. Students hunted for morel mushrooms while Skarin and others prepared the meal.
When all the ingredients from their day’s tour were assembled and prepared, the group sat down to enjoy the dinner of salad, grilled asparagus, smoked venison roasts with bacon, roasted potatoes, barbecue veggie meatballs, homemade bread, and rhubarb dessert. Nearly everything served at the dinner and throughout the day was produced locally.
“In each portion of the meal, you could taste the freshness of the food,” said Tuller, “and knowing the stories of where the food came from made the meal even more special.”
“It was wonderful spending the time to enjoy great food and great company, relishing in the relaxation and sense of community,” said Diviney.
Following the meal, the group then returned to campus, reflecting on the experience.
“In the end, we want to thank Jason,” said Marple, “not only for the incredible experience, but also for all the hard work he does in bringing local foods to Luther.”
Photo caption: Jason Skarin, far left, leading a group of Luther students during a local foods tour and dinner party.