Last Tuesday’s “Who is Northfield?” panel discussion marked the culmination of the ACT Center’s annual series of civic engagement events. Each year, the ACT center holds a series of discussions that seek to engage the college with the Northfield community. This year’s theme was “Food: From Local to Global.” Over the course of February, the ACT center held food-themed documentaries, panel discussions, talks with alumni who have gone into the food industry, and a tour of Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis.
At Tuesday’s final panel discussion, five members of the Northfield community spoke about food issues as they relate to Northfield. These panelists included Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin of the Rural Enterprises Center, Katrina Karlsen of the Community Action Center food shelf, Michael Delcambre, head chef of Bon Appétit, Tim Geary, plant manager of Malt-o-Meal, and Kathy Zeman of Simple Harvest Farm Organics.
Each panelist got the chance to introduce themselves and describe the work they do in the Northfield community. All agreed that ensuring a sustainable, healthy food supply to all residents faces serious challenges. One such challenge is the state of the economy. Karlsen has seen a tremendous amount of need for the Food Shelf’s services, yet the Shelf is not equipped to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. The poorest members of the Northfield community can’t afford fresh produce. Haslett-Marroquin agrees. The Rural Enterprises Center’s community gardens seek to correct that problem by allowing the underserved Hispanic community to grow their own vegetables.
Another problem brought up at the panel is the lack of infrastructure in place to process organic and locally-grown food. Zeman’s organic farm does not have the advantage of economies of scale that larger conventional farms enjoy. She is trying to work with Northfield High School to incorporate more local foods into the school lunches, but the school is required by law to buy commodity. Delcambre explains that he is lucky Bon Appétit gives him the freedom to work with local farmers to provide some of the dining halls’ food.
There is hope for the future. Each of these panelists is working with the community to improve Northfield’s food supply. As Haslett-Marroquin put it, he is committed to ensuring that “we can have food as long as the Earth lives.”