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Food Lab HQ
Â© 2017 Tamzin B. Smith
Washington College’s innovative new Eastern Shore Food Lab will be based in the heart of Chestertown in a renovated restaurant space.
In an effort to integrate Washington College’s innovative new Eastern Shore Food Lab directly with the local Chestertown community, the College announced today that the Food Lab will be based downtown in the building which presently houses the Blue Heron Café.
Larry Culp, chair of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors, purchased the building from Blue Heron owner Paul Hanley, who has operated the popular eatery since 1997. The Blue Heron Café will continue to serve customers through October, after which the space will undergo renovation in preparation for the opening next year of the Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College (ESFL).
“Washington College is committed to providing our undergraduates with an education they can’t get anywhere else. The Eastern Shore Food Lab embodies this goal, a cutting-edge, multidisciplinary centerpiece of broader programming that will change the way we think about food, from access to diet and health,” says College President Kurt Landgraf. “Community involvement is key to the Lab’s mission, and basing it in this terrific property in the heart of downtown Chestertown will spark that. We are deeply grateful for Larry Culp’s foresight in understanding the key nature of this relationship, and his continued extraordinary commitment to Washington College.”
“One of the Food Lab’s fundamental missions is to engage the community as we address this region’s food resources, traditions, and history, with an eye toward how we can make positive changes in the future,” says Bill Schindler, the inaugural director of the lab, chair of the College’s Department of Anthropology, and an international expert in the intersection of primitive foodways, technologies, and contemporary innovations in food systems. “Not only will it enable our students and local residents work together, I fully expect the ESFL to draw experts from all over the world to Chestertown to participate in this hub of innovation as we create food system solutions that are environmentally and culturally sustainable.”
Hanley, who announced the upcoming transition to his staff over the weekend, says it was a bittersweet decision to sell the Blue Heron, although “I’m looking forward to watching the exciting new changes that are ahead for the café.”
The ESFL will be an interdisciplinary research, teaching, and production laboratory dedicated to studying and experimenting with sustainable food systems, using the Eastern Shore food-shed as its primary context. By researching the resources unique to the region based on weather, climate, soil chemistry, and microbial biology—and fusing ancient and historic foodways with modern technologies—faculty, students, community members, and collaborative researchers will re-envision our food system, from how we define food to how we grow it and prepare it.
The Food Lab received a huge boost early this year when the Maryland Department of Commerce, as part of its Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative, granted $944,000 to match gifts of $1 million from donors to create an endowed chair in sustainable food systems for the lab.
Schindler, the inaugural chair, is spending the coming academic year on sabbatical as a visiting professor at the School of Archaeology, University College Dublin (UCD), working on a project called “Food Evolutions” in partnership with UCD and Odaios Foods. He is conducting research and training with experts from around the world to deepen his understanding of strategies to transform ingredients such as wild foraged plants, ancient grains, and offal into nutrient-dense foods. Through this research, Schindler will position the Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College as an international center that works to transform food systems and improve diet, health, and human and environmental relationships.
In addition to the downtown base, students will work out of Cromwell Hall, the new academic building dedicated to the departments of Environmental Science and Studies and Anthropology. The lab will also utilize the thousands of acres at Chino Farms to create a one-of-a-kind wild food laboratory—an outdoor classroom and laboratory dedicated to experimenting with and pushing the limits of wild food resources, from wild plants, insects, and animals to microflora.
For more information about the Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College, visiting www.washcoll.edu/ESFL .