Hometown Holiday: Architecture Grad Students Host Local Food Thanksgiving

pumpkin farm
November 19, 2015

Food and fellowship with a local flavor is the intention of the annual “100-mile Thanksgiving” potluck dinner for the members of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture.

More than 100 people are anticipated at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on Rugby Road for tonight’s meal, with participants bringing dishes made with ingredients that came from within 100 miles of Charlottesville.

The dinner is the creation of Tim Beatley, Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities and chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, who started it nine years ago to promote “locavore” diets. Organized by graduate students, the meal is inspired by the book, the “100-Mile Diet,” by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, two Canadian writers who chronicled their efforts to eat only regional food.

“I was drawn to this as a way to rediscover the local, and to rekindle our deep connections and commitments to place,” Beatley said. “Food has the potential to profoundly tie us to the land, to the community and to each other.”

He said it made sense that the urban planning department would connect with a sense of place and with sustainability.

“This is a way to celebrate the people and the farms that sustain us,” he said. “It is a tangible expression of the values we teach in the planning program, as we come together as a department and a family and celebrate food, place, friendship.”

Beatley said it has gotten easier to find more foods locally over the years. Participants now plan ahead and put together dishes with local produce that has been canned or preserved.

“We’ve learned new/old skills such as canning,” he said. “And we are better connected to local producers.”

Meal organizer Ethan Strickler, an urban planning graduate student, said some local farmers have been invited to the dinner, but he does not know if they will be able to attend because of their schedules.

“A wide variety of local farmers will ‘participate’ in the meal whether they are there or not, because their various farm products will be featured at the potluck,” Strickler said. “The theme of the meal is to feature food produced within 100 miles of Charlottesville, and the vast majority of dishes served at the potluck adhere to this theme. The students and faculty do a very good job of sourcing local products for the meal, and oftentimes label their dishes with the farms where their various ingredients were sourced. Local food is the overwhelming theme of the gathering.”

The meal’s centerpiece will be four turkeys from the Shenandoah Valley’s Long Roots Farm.

“I was at the farm recently and I got to feed and hang out with the birds we will eat at the meal,” Strickler said.

“Volunteers in the planning department, including myself, will be cooking the turkeys,” Strickler said. “The students in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning will also cook and provide a vegetarian side dish option. The meal is a potluck, meaning that everyone who attends brings a dish to share. So, almost everyone who attends cooks.”

The tradition of the “local” dinner has continued because it is successful.

“Last year we had more than 100 people attend, and this year we expect to top last year’s attendance,” Strickler said. “It is a really special event for our department and community. It gives us the opportunity to get together around the holidays to celebrate local food and enjoy each other’s company.” 

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Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications