Park district holds Thought for Food event

By Maureen Wilkey

Urbana residents got a taste of the food of their hometown on Saturday at the Urbana Park District’s Thought for Food event. The park district sponsored a petting zoo and cooking demonstrations from local restaurants, as well as workshops held in Lincoln Square Mall on local food, garden tours at Meadowbrook Garden and the Idea Garden and a tasting dinner in Crystal Lake Park.

“A lot of the local vendors and restaurants are pitching in to make this event work,” said Judy Miller, the environmental programs manager at the Urbana Park District. “We’re really trying to make the community aware of locally produced food and to get them to support local farmers and restaurants.”

As part of the event, restaurants like Radio Maria, Bacaro and Caf‚ Luna came to the Farmer’s Market at Lincoln Square Mall to demonstrate their recipes. Leslie Cooperband, a University employee, came to help serve the food that was cooked at the demonstration. She said there had been a fairly large crowd coming through to see the demonstrations and eat.

“By doing this, we are really helping create awareness of the local businesses and farms,” she said. “The demonstrations have gotten a pretty big audience, so it seems pretty successful.”

In addition to the cooking demonstration, a petting zoo including chickens, geese, ducks and a goat was set up at the Farmer’s Market. Children who came to the market with their parents were allowed to play with and feed the animals in order to demonstrate how farmers might raise their animals.

“The kids have been really excited to pet the goat,” said Stacey Clementz, the Urbana Park District’s seasonal environmentalist. “The ducks and the geese are a little skittish, but overall, the kids are enjoying themselves.”

People looking for new ideas for growing food in their gardens were encouraged to go to the Idea Garden in the Arboretum on Florida and Lincoln avenues. There, members of the Master Gardeners Club talked about how to grow herbs and vegetables and how to avoid problems with plants in their gardens.

“The purpose of the Idea Garden is for people to come out here and look at some of the things we have done and try them out in their own garden,” said master gardener Mike Palmer. “We have special sections for vegetables and herbs, and a theme garden and children’s garden.”

Some new innovations in the past few years in the Idea Garden have been raised, such as making gardens more accessible to handicapped gardeners and constructing signs indicating what each plant is, its scientific name and some of the things it can be used for.

Simon Rosen, a friend of the Master Gardeners, was on hand to take visitors on tours of the garden and describe the plants to them.

“Our main weed problem is that plants from other areas of the garden seed themselves in other places in the garden,” Rosen told visitors. “Sometimes, you find something growing where you didn’t plant it.”

Beth Kowski of the Master Gardeners Club encouraged all people interested in plants to come out to the Master Gardeners’ events, such as garden day and herb day, which are coming up this spring.

“We are always planning events to help people know what to do in their garden,” Kowski said.