SIU brings community and students together with Farm to Fork dinner

By Rana Schenke, Staff Writer

SIU is hosting the third annual Farm to Fork Dinner bringing the campus and local community together to showcase local food and talent, at Grinnell Commons on April 18 at 5:30 p.m.

“The event itself, of course, is meant to celebrate local food,” Sustainability Coordinator Geory Kurtzhals said, “and so it celebrates sustainability, it’s celebrating our community, and it’s helping to connect students with where their food is coming from.”

Kurtzhals is a part of the committee in charge of the dinner.


“The first year of this event came about because of a very passionate SIU student, a graduate student, who took the lead on putting this dinner together with one of our chefs from Housing,” Kurtzhals said.

Since then, the event has grown; Kurtzhals estimates that around 130 people were served at last year’s event.

This year’s dinner will be cooked by university chefs Sean Eberly and Pam Reed, according to a university press release.

The four-course meal will be made with ingredients grown or produced by farms in the southern Illinois region.

Farm to Fork Committee Chairperson Rachel Dycus said that some of the farms grow items specifically to be served at the dinner.

Last year, many of the ingredients were picked the day of the event.

“They were literally picked in the morning and we ate them in the evening,” Dycus said. “It was wonderful.”


At the dinner, student musicians from the School of Music will provide musical entertainment. Kurtzhals said the Horticulture club has grown and designed plants that will be used as centerpieces.

“I’m not aware of any other event that SIU hosts that has this particular dynamic and has a celebration of local food,” Kurtzhals said.

The evening’s menu includes a spring salad with champagne vinaigrette, cauliflower, pear and blue cheese soup, chicken with wild mushroom and garlic sauté, roasted potatoes, fresh asparagus, and strawberry coulis with pastry and cream, the press release said.

Guests can also select a vegan main meal option when registering that replaces the main course with sweet potato gnocchi with vegan cream sauce and spring sugar snap peas, the press release said.

For guests over 21, beer and wine pairings will be available at an additional cost.

One of the vineyards contributing wine to the dinner is Blue Sky Vineyard of Makanda, Illinois.

“We like to make premium wines made from premium grapes, and I feel that they are best enjoyed with food,” Karen Hand, winemaker at Blue Sky said. “[The event] introduces people to wines who may not typically drink wine with dinner, so it just introduces the wines to a wider population,”

The farmers and brewers are invited to the event which allows students to have a human-to-human connection with the people who grow their food, Kurtzhals said.

“All of us are becoming more and more disconnected with where our food is coming from, so this is an opportunity to reconnect with that,” Kurtzhals said.

Jill Rendleman, owner and manager of All Seasons Farms in Cobden, Illinois, said the dinner also helps the farms involved because it is a way to meet the public and tell them about the farms.

“It’s a connection… between the farmers and the university community, which I think is something that could be built upon,” Rendleman said.

Rendleman’s farm is known for its quality fruits and vegetables, which are produced without chemicals or genetically modified organisms.

“We are a certified organic farm, so we produce certified organic vegetables and fruit, and we’re one of just two or three [farms] in Southern Illinois that do that,” Rendleman said.

In order for a farm to be certified organic, it has to meet certain standards, such as growing crops in soil that has not had synthetic herbicides and pesticides applied to it for three years prior to harvest, according to the USDA website.

Organic food is believed to be better for people and for the environment because it does not use chemicals that could be harmful to people, plants, and animals.

Rendleman said that her farm was founded with a mission to help improve the natural environment and the community. The Farm to Fork dinner allows All Seasons Farm to introduce organic, locally produced food to the greater community.

Other local farms and vineyards participating include Flamm Orchards, Kite Hill Vineyard, and SIU Farms.

This event is made possible through the partnership of SIU’s University Housing with the university’s Sustainability Office, Department of Animal Science, Food and Nutrition and the SIU Fermentation Science Institute.

Staff writer Rana Schenke can be reached at 

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