Harvest Hootenanny nourishes community and pushes for local foods

The Harvest Hootenanny event in full swing. Photo by Luke Williamson (C’21).

By Luke Williamson
Executive Staff

Sewanee’s first-ever Harvest Hootenanny started as a simple idea, then ballooned in size to more than 200 participants. The event sought to cultivate community, particularly between the students and employees eating local food in McClurg Dining Hall and the farmers growing that food and the McClurg staff members preparing it.

“Ann Robinson (C’19) from the Farm Club and Greenhouse had reached out to me. She wanted some help to do some kind of engagement piece with a farmer engagement, student mix,” explained Caroline Thompson, Senior Cook in McClurg Dining Hall. “We started with the contra dance idea and it just ballooned into this huge event now.”

Thompson expressed that, although Sewanee invests close to one million dollars in the local food economy every year, there is nonetheless a disconnect between students, farmers, and McClurg staff members that each participate in this economy.

“And,” said Thompson, “if we can provide that background of just meeting a farmer and what their life is like, I think we can spur even more conversations about changing big agriculture. That’s pretty idealistic — but I think there is movement in getting people in the same room and just being together and sparking conversations between groups that don’t generally mix.”

The event also sought to highlight the value of locally sourced food. In fact, it was the inspiration for the event.

“Last spring I had talked to Chef Rick [the Director of Sewanee Dining], and Emmitt Logsdon, who is the owner of Lost Cove Bison Farm. And they were talking about how if we want to advocate for local foods it needs to be like coming from the students. So then I was like, okay, we should actually try and do an event,” said Robinson.

Robinson, a natural resources major and former work study at the University Farm, expressed that an event like this, focused on locally sourced food, would have to include a community aspect.

“I think environmentalism and community overlap and sustain one another, because I think if you have a strong human community, that allows you to extend your scope to the non-human community — or the environmental community,” she said.

Photo by Hellen Wainaina (C’18).

Robinson’s ideas about community and sustainability definitely shaped the creation of the Harvest Hootenanny. After reaching out to Thompson, Robinson began brainstorming with her on what an event that involved both local farmers and students might look like. Thompson explained that they wanted to be creative and depart from a typical farmer/student mixer model of just talking at a table.

That’s where the contra dance idea came in. Contra dance is a type of dance composed of long lines of couples who move according to the caller. Sewanee once held contra dances regularly — there is even a 1992 issue of the Sewanee Purple that covers a contra dance event in Franklin County.

Nostalgia was hardly the only motivating factor behind putting together the contra dance, though. Dancing was just one part of Thompson and Robinson’s aims of facilitating the mixing of different groups; not just farmer and student groups, but also divides between age groups.

Robinson expressed her excitement about the intergenerational nature of the event. “You had all ranges of adults from their early 20s to like 80-year-olds coming through, and I was like, ‘I want this to happen more often.’ For people to be mingling in that manner, not just 20-year-olds surrounded by 20-year-olds all of the time.”

Sewanee Dining, the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, Sustain Sewanee, Greenhouse, Farm Club, University Farm, The Socially Conscious Investment Club, Swing That Thing, Perpetual Motion, The Community Engagement House, and Healthy Hut all partnered together to help make the Harvest Hootenanny a success.

“We kind of just wanted to do something to mix it up in [McClurg]!” added Thompson. “Students go there three or more times a day. And Sewanee Dining can get blown over, but we’re a major part of the life here on campus,” she said.

Ultimately, for both Thompson and Robinson, part of why Sewanee’s first Harvest Hootenanny was such a success is because of how it combined both big ideas and ideals and groups of people.

As for whether or not Harvest Hootenanny will become a Sewanee tradition, Thompson and Robinson are both hopeful.

Reflecting on the event, Robinson said: “It was great — it was freaking great. When everybody was there eating together and I saw all of the tables full of people,” she paused and jokingly fist pumped, “I was like ‘Oh my god, we did it!’”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability website but has been revised for this re-publishing.