Sophomore Marc Lovell, 19, (center left) and freshman Jesse Reist, 18, fill their plates with sweet-and-sour cabbage and ground beef during last week's Fall Harvest Local Meal. Photo by Mike Reilly, Daily News Record.

Community Flocks to EMU for Annual Fall Harvest Dinner

Ranita Shenk’s favorite part of the Fall Harvest dinner was squash picked straight out of one of Eastern Mennonite University’s five campus gardens.

The 20-year-old sophomore made sure she attended the annual Fall Harvest Local Meal last week, if only because many of her friends were raving about it.

“It’s one of the most popular meals of the year,” she said.

Students, faculty, staff and visitors line up to partake of the yearly celebration of everything local: produce, meat, herbs and even the music playing through the speakers — all produced no farther away than Waynesboro, and mostly in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County.

Over the past five years, the meal has become a well-received tradition on campus.

“I’m not really on a meal plan, but I make it a point to come,” said senior James Souder, 22.

“We always make sure we come,” echoed Lois Shank, assistant to Provost Fred Kniss, who donated an array of peppers from his city garden.

Season’s Bounty Farm in Harrisonburg provided radishes and potatoes, cabbage came from Hickory Hill Farm in Keezletown and Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse provided apple cider, to name a few of the event’s farmer participants.

Even the canola oil was local, derived from Portwood Acres in Port Republic.

“The interest that the community gives us, it’s what makes it worthwhile,” said Ramona Lantz, serving and catering manager at the university, on a short break from practically running around the buzzing dining hall.

Every month, the cafeteria provides a themed meal.

“This is by far the most popular,” Lantz said.

The event was one of the first of the annual Food and Farming Week at EMU, put on by Earthkeepers, a student group that aims to encourage and start environmentally friendly practices around campus.

Students learned how to bake bread in Cedarwood residence hall last week. They took a tour of Broadway farm Avalon Acres and various campus gardens. And that’s just a sampling of the week’s events.

“This [meal] is something that students really look forward to,” said Josh Kanagy, co-president of Earthkeepers, while eating his own locally grown meal.

Courtesy Daily News Record, Oct. 9, 2012