Once a year, the students, staff and friends of the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm travel from far and wide to honor the farm itself, its students and team members’ efforts, and to enjoy a great meal shared by all. For the feast, the farm is transformed into a unique dining experience complete with meticulously crafted plate settings, friends exchanging memories, and a lengthy table saved for a locally sourced and sustainable meal prepared by talented Michigan State University chefs.
In her traditional denim bib overalls, Director of the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment Laurie Thorp, signaled supper time with an iron dinner bell and proceeded to commend the crowd for investing in the future of Michigan farmers.
“We are here to honor the student farmers,” said Thorp. “This meal represents all the caring relationships so necessary for good food and good farming. Care for the land, care for each other and for our future generations who will take up this noble practice.”
Later in the evening, seven deserving farmers were brought on stage and awarded with the Larry and Faylene Owen Emerging Farmer and the Vennie Gore Emerging Farmer awards. These scholarships recognize farmers who demonstrate leadership and a commitment to farming as well as show promise as future farmers.
Scholarships support students going through or who have completed the Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP), an eight-month intensive program in year-round organic farming focusing on diversified production of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers and livestock for local farming markets.
Carole Bentekoe, one of the scholarship recipients is a native of northern Michigan and has spent the past decade working and exploring the world. She is a third-generation Spartan and returned home to Michigan to be a part of the sustainable agriculture movement.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go through this program without the scholarship,” said Bentekoe. “It’s an honor to receive one because it takes off pressure so you can actually pursue the thing you want to pursue.”
Undergraduate students and staff who volunteer and work on the farm were also honored at the event.
David Chickers, a senior biosystems engineering major and undergraduate Student Organic Farm crew member, has attended past Feast in the Field events and appreciates the community support every year.
“It’s exciting to see how many people are involved,” said Chickers. “It’s not usually really busy out here, so it’s nice to know how many people care about the farm and realize its value.”
The main attraction of the Feast in the Field is, of course, the feast itself, created through a collaboration between MSU chefs who hail from various Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) departments across campus, including the residential dining halls, Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, MSU Concessions and Kellogg Catering. Each chef carefully and thoughtfully prepared a course and shared its locally sourced ingredients with the audience.
“We have a great working relationship with the Student Organic Farm and Residential and Hospitality Services, they put hard work in everything they prepare,” said RHS Culinary Services Corporate Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski. “It’s magical coming out to the farm, and it just puts you in a great mood.”
Every year, a pig roast is the highlight of the menu and displayed in the front of the event’s entrance. This year, Kwiatkowski described the pig as being raised hyperlocal at MSU and ethically butchered by MSU students earlier in the week. Kwaitkowski also described his experience of walking throughout the farm collecting ingredients for the appetizers.
For those who work on the farm, tasting the food they’ve carefully grow in a prepared dish is a humbling and delectable experience.
“I feel like we get to try a lot of the food in a raw form, but it was really neat to try the food professionally prepared,” said Bentekoe. “The food is a completely different experience than when you’re just pulling it up from the field.”
Past and present attendees of the event help invest in MSU’s Student Organic Farm. The farm provides MSU’s campus with a farm stand, and produce used in MSU dining halls and other wholesale outlets, and provides students with organic farmer training programs.
“The farm gets 100 members a week through CSA, which reinforces how important we are, but it’s nice to see new faces appreciate our efforts,” said Chickers.
The next generation of Michigan farmers are molded at the MSU Student Organic Farm and will take their knowledge, leadership skills and community with them as they become the future of agriculture.