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'Food day' aims to raise local organic food awareness

 

Most members of the Ole Miss and Oxford community are unaware of the local farmers and rich agriculture that surrounds Oxford.

A food policy class at the University of Mississippi is hoping to change that with Food Day, which will take place Wednesday, Oct. 19 from 12 p.m. until 3:30 p.m.

“I’ve always thought that Oxford was kind of weirdly hippie, but there’s a lot of places to get organic food,” Maggie Starks, public policy senior and food policy student, said. “It’s not just driven by weird college kids wanting to eat organically. It’s (the farmers’) lifestyle and their livelihood.”

The food policy class wants to show that organic food is not just a fad and that farmers around Oxford make a living by growing and selling it locally.  

“As part of our class, we all have to do a service learning project,” said Nick Castiglia, public policy senior and food policy student, said. “A lot of us did them with farmers. We’re really excited to be able to bring the farmers to the campus so that they can promote their products and produce.”

Though students in the class had to do their service learning products individually, they decided to promote Food Day together.

“As a class, we all decided that we wanted to take (Food Day) on because it was so relevant to our course,” Castiglia said. “Since we’ve already got a little bit of background knowledge, and we’re already in the process of learning all about this stuff, we felt it natural just to take it on and learn more and show everybody else what we’ve learned.”

The food policy class is hoping to raise awareness of Oxford’s local farming community and the availability of fresh produce.  

“Food Day specifically emphasizes the benefits of locally-grown markets and highlights food as an important element of our culture that has had a dramatic change in the past 40 years,” said Jody Holland, assistant professor of public policy and leadership and food policy professor. “We want to highlight the local agricultural system and the distribution of good, natural, healthy produce.”

Though the event’s primary focus is the benefits of local agriculture, the food policy class also wants to promote the benefits of eating organic fruits, vegetables and meats.

“Obviously, Mississippi is the most obese state,” Castiglia said. “Anything we can do to increase healthy eating and give (the community) options and sustainability would be a good thing.”

Though this is the first Food Day Ole Miss has had, Holland is optimistic about the future of the program.

“We’re hoping to develop into an annual program that simply focuses on local food systems,” she said.

The event kicks off with a “farmer’s market” outside of the Student Union on Wednesday.

Though the vendors and farmers will not be selling products, the market will serve to inform students about the different types of farming and agricultural resources around Oxford. 

“It will simply resemble an outdoor market,” Starks said. “We will have a few local farmers that bring in their produce, recipes and samples, and things like that.”

At 2 p.m., Food Day will move into the Union, where there will be presentations from Holland, John Green, director of the Ole Miss Center of Population Studies, and Amy Evans Streeter, an oral historian for the Southern Foodways Alliance.  

There will also be local farmers and food policy students to field questions afterward.

Though the event is held on campus, all members of the community are welcome to come and learn more about Oxford’s agricultural producers.

Food Day officially ends at 3:30 p.m.