CALDWELL — The cafeteria at The College of Idaho serves a colorful cornucopia of locally raised food this time of the year. Purple and red heirloom tomatoes from Homedale, shiny green peppers from Meridian and golden bread loaves from Nampa wheat are among the foods savored by students.
For the past eight years the cafeteria has aimed to provide 20 percent of its annual food from small family farms within a 150-mile radius of Caldwell, and during the peak harvest this fall, 70 percent or more of ingredients come from local farms.
“We want our food to taste as good as possible and be as minimally processed as possible. We want to know our local producers and what’s going into our food. In the end, it’s about the quality. Fresh, ripe food tastes better,” said Matt Caldwell, the general manager of Bon Apetit, the college’s food service provider.
This Saturday, Caldwell and other campus chefs will host food lovers from around the Treasure Valley for Farm to Table: Celebrating Idaho’s Food.
The event, which features educational presentations and a big dinner with local ingredients, will show what a great variety of food is grown here in the Treasure Valley and around Idaho. Hopefully it will also persuade others to follow The College of Idaho’s lead in serving and eating local ingredients, said Rochelle Johnson, an environmental studies professor at the College of Idaho and an organizer of the event.
“Most of the potatoes we eat in Idaho are grown elsewhere even though we are famous for our potatoes. Most of the sugar we eat is grown elsewhere even though we grow sugar beets. The average food has traveled 1,500 miles. That’s just an astounding distance, especially in Idaho,” Johnson explained.
Johnson said eating locally grown food has a number of benefits. It builds the local economy by supporting local food producers instead of producers from other states or countries; it brings together the community by offering interactions between consumers and food producers; and it’s better for the environment by cutting down on the pollution caused by transporting food from far off locations.
In recent years, more people have become aware of the importance of eating locally produced food nationally, and Idaho farmers and consumers are on the “vanguard” of this local foods movement, Johnson said.
For example, she noted that community groups such as the Treasure Valley Food Coalition advocate on behalf of sustainable local agriculture, while several restaurants tout their use of locally grown food.
“In some ways we’re following the rest of the country. But in some ways we’re leading the way,” Johnson said.