Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Prairie Table" Promotes Local Food

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One of the great luxuries of life for most Americans is not having to think much about where our meals will come from. We rest comfortable in the knowledge that cheap food is available to us in our grocery stores and restaurants day and night. Rather than wondering if we will have enough to eat, we wonder how to choose among our many options: produce from all parts of the globe, inexpensive meats, processed foods previous generations would never have imagined.

Most of us also have at least some sense that the system that brings us food so cheaply produces social and environmental ills that are not accounted for in the prices we pay at the checkout counter. These ills include the loss of agricultural biodiversity, the production of greenhouse gases, air and water pollution, and the concentration of food production into the hands of a small number of very large corporations.

Fortunately, there are also a growing number of alternatives to this system available. In Champaign County, a new group called Prairie Table has formed to promote a more thoughtful approach to food, how it is grown, how it is distributed and how it is consumed. In the words of co-founder and president Laurence Mate, “Prairie Table is about educating our community on the benefits of growing, purchasing, and preparing meals from the wonderful food available locally.”

One way that Prairie Table pursues this goal is by collaborating with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the U of I to produce and distribute Farm Direct, a free booklet that provides consumers with information about where they can buy locally produced food. The Farm Direct guide lists farmer’s markets, community sponsored agriculture groups, and other area farmers who sell food directly to the public. Would you like to know where you can pick your own fruit grown without synthetic pesticides or herbicides within a few miles of Champaign-Urbana, or where you can buy organic meat, eggs and poultry nearby? The Farm Direct guide will tell you. There is even a web-based version of the farm direct guide, at, which allows consumers to search for information about producers and markets within a specific locale.

Prairie Table has also developed a program that encourages restaurants to buy at least twenty-five percent of their produce from local farmers. Participating restaurants, such as Timpone’s in Urbana and CafĂ© Luna in Champaign, offer specific menu items that feature ingredients produced by local farmers.

Beyond helping consumers hook up with area farmers, this summer Prairie Table is collaborating with the Mettler Center Cooking School in Champaign to offer Saturday morning classes on healthy cooking with local foods. Participants in these classes, which are limited to twelve, will first meet with the instructor to shop at the Market at the Square in Urbana, and then regroup at the Mettler Center to prepare a simple brunch. These classes are open to the public, but require registration and payment in advance. For further details about Prairie Table cooking classes, or to sign up people can call the Mettler Center.

As a nonprofit organization, Prairie Table welcomes new members, volunteers, and donations. For information about how you can get involved visit them on the web at [].