Birmingham-Southern College has made a decision to postpone the BSC portion of the Green Weekend events scheduled this weekend to May 16. The Whole Foods Film Festival will still go on as planned, but because of the weather, we are going to postpone the campus open house and twilight supper.
When Roald Hazelhoff came to Birmingham from Georgia to teach political science at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) in 1989, he found himself in awe of Alabama’s natural beauty and distressed by how little was being done to protect it. “[Alabama] ranks fifth in the nation for its biodiversity,” Hazelhoff says. “I had never seen so much natural beauty and such poor management and neglect.”
Soon after assuming his teaching position at BSC, Hazelhoff began rallying a group of students to do planting and recycling. The efforts of Hazelhoff and others on campus won national attention, so much so that the school received a special visitor in May 1990. President George H. W. Bush presented BSC with one of his Point of Light Awards to honor conservation efforts at the college.
Hazelhoff stepped down from his faculty position and went on to create the campus-based Southern Environmental Center (SEC) of Alabama, which draws about 20,000 visitors a year for its educational programs. The SEC also does work in the community, including the creation of special gardens, or “ecoscapes,” such as the one dedicated last week at the Eastern Health Center in Roebuck. “The movement has gone from just a few students to creating an entire environmental studies program, the first of its kind in Alabama,” Hazelhoff says. Environmental studies is one of the fastest growing majors at the college, according to Hazelhoff.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Point of Light award, as well as 20 years of increasingly sustainable environmental practices on campus, BSC and the SEC have teamed up with co-sponsors Whole Foods Market, Jones Valley Urban Farm (JVUF), Slow Food Birmingham and Cafe DuPont to host the foodie-friendly “Growing Green Weekend” on May 1 and 2. “The event is two-fold,” according to Hazelhoff. “It’s a welcome home for alumni from the 90s to remember the initial achievements, to see how far we’ve come. And it’s for the community to see how we’re increasingly involved.” The event will also serve as a major fundraiser for the SEC.
“Growing Green” will feature a festival of films about food and a local vendor fair. The weekend will culminate Sunday night with a community “Twilight Supper” on campus. The supper will be prepared by local chef and BSC graduate Chris DuPont and made with ingredients from Whole Foods.
The film festival, called “Let’s Retake our Plates,” will be held at the campus’ Norton Theatre and is part of a national effort by Whole Foods to educate consumers about where their food is coming from. There are 286 Whole Foods markets located in the United States, and over 100 of them will participate. “It’s a way to show Whole Food’s connection to the local food movement,” according to Laura Brooks Bright, the marketing coordinator of Whole Foods Market in Mountain Brook.
There will be screenings of four feature films: Food Fight, King Corn/Big River, No Impact Man and What’s On Your Plate. Each feature will be preceded by featurettes about local food producers. These include a documentary called CUD Goes Down Under! about Will Harris, a local producer of grass-fed beef, and The Rise of Southern Cheese, the story of such cheesemakers as Fromagerie Belle Chevre in Elkmont, Ala. Another short documentary will tell the story of Jones Valley Urban Farm. Underwritten by Whole Foods and produced by the Mississippi-based Southern Food Alliance, the films seek to pinpoint ways that consumers can start making immediate amendments to their practices.
“People get out of these films and one of the questions they ask themselves is, ‘What do I do next?’ Well, buy locally,” Bright says. “The farmer’s market just opened [a couple of weekends ago] so that’s a great way to do it. Look for local products in your grocery, whether it’s in Whole Foods Market or another one, and demand it. Say, ‘I don’t want strawberries from California. We’ve got them in Georgia.’ The more that the consumer demands, the more the grocery store will help and follow.”
JVUF has been working on some of the same issues, according to Edwin Marty, the farm’s executive director. “Our food system is unintentional,” he says. “What we should be asking are questions like: ‘Is our food system sensible? Is it healthy? What would happen if we spent more time building an intentional food system?’ It’s important that good, healthy food is grown in proximity to people so it’s delivered to them while it’s still fresh. A fresh tomato grown locally tastes better than anything in the world.”
Marty is interested in teaching kids about food so that they will be able to make a lifetime of good, informed choices. He recently showed one of the festival’s films, King Corn, to a group of high school students at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. As a result, he helped change the way that they all refer to Coca-Cola. “We call it Endosperm Cola,” Marty says. “When you realize that Coca-Cola is basically corn and water, it changes the way you think of drinking it.”
Amanda Storey, currently with the United Way, is also attempting to change hearts and minds regarding the importance of good food. The Growing Green event is just another way to aggregate like-minded locals and to, as Storey puts it, “connect [them] all by the same work.” While unemployed last year, Storey helped JVUF and Slow Food Birmingham host a screening of the documentary film Food Inc. at Bottletree Cafe. “People are working day in and day out in our community,” she says. “There are an abundance of resources, but they are working separately. I had the time to commit to volunteer hours [to bind them together.] Bringing Food Inc. to town was just a way to connect all the issues with fiscal activity, fresh, local and good-for-you foods.”
Storey is now assisting the United Way in implementing a program called “Healthy Kids, Healthy Community” to combat childhood obesity in Alabama. “For the first time, children are going to have shorter life-spans than their parents,” Storey says. “It’s a real problem. If you live in lower income areas, you live in a food desert. We’re rushing around, relying on other people to give us food. Everybody deserves the right to have access to good nutrition. Good food is energy to run, to think, to draw, to create. It really feeds the life of the community.”
“A lot of people are really scared of the food troops,” Storey says. However, the message from local food ambassadors is an inviting one, she suggests. “You can pick and choose the changes you make in your own life,” Storey says. “Everyone is going to have their own continuum. [These films] just provide a perspective. Even if the films encourage people to sit around together and eat, they’ve done their job.”
The Growing Green Weekend will be a small-scale feast of foods and facts. “It’ll be a really cool way to show people a big picture of what the sustainable food movement is and is going to continue to be,” Bright says. “In 20 years, it won’t be new and fresh. It’ll be the mainstay and it’ll be what people practice. These other major corporations will have to have stepped up to the plate, we hope. In a decade, we hope that we’ll be talking about something else.”
For more information regarding the Growing Green Weekend at BSC, which is scheduled for Sat., May 1, and Sun., May 2, visit www.bsc.edu/sec. For details regarding the films in “Let’s Retake our Plates,” go to www.letsretakeourplates.com. You can purchase film or dinner tickets at www.bsc.edu/goto/weekend.
Cory Bordonaro writes about food and other topics for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.