Apples and poetry sustain community

Cinnamon, brown sugar and a heap of fresh apples comprised the recipe for a successful evening at the Wendell Berry House. On Friday, Oct. 24, students wandered down St. Olaf Avenue and gathered at the Wendell Berry House for Americana Night, an annual event hosted in collaboration with the Poetry House.

The mission of the Wendell Berry House is to “build community through sustainable food,” and this event certainly met that goal. Upon opening the door, attendees were greeted with welcoming smiles and the delicious aroma of apple crisp. New groups of students streamed in an out of the house for the duration of the event – from 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – and the house was constantly overflowing with guests.

In preparation for the event, the house members cut up 40 pounds of apples and baked 10 pans of apple crisp. A long but fast-moving line formed from the dining room into the kitchen as guests began dishing up the homemade desert and ice cream. For those with an unquenched craving for fall fruit, a craft of spiced apple cider sat on the table as well. House members enjoyed the opportunity to bond with event attendees and each other during the evening.

“The joy present in the kitchen stemmed from more than just some scrumptious apples; it grew from gratitude for the opportunity to spend time with friends, share stories and build relationships, and I think we were able to share these sentiments with those who attended the event as well,” Laura Newton ’15 said.

True to the mission of the house, the food was not only tasty but also sustainable. Honoring their commitment to local agriculture, all of the apples came from Northfield’s Fireside Orchard. To reduce waste, guests ate their apple crisp and drank their cider out of reusable dishes. When they were finished, they washed their dishes in the kitchen sink and brought them back to the dining room table for the next group of guests to use. Encouraging guests to participate in the clean-up process helped them appreciate the effort that goes into a sustainable lifestyle.

Poetry House members set up an open mic area in the living room, and invited anyone who wanted to share the opportunity to speak in front of the group. Students filled the living room, dining room and hallways, hushing each other to better hear their fellow Oles share their favorite American poetry. Students read poems by Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and many other American poets. Cynthia Zapata ’16 and Clair Dunlap ’15, members of the Poetry House, shared some of their own original work, and encouraged others to do the same.

About half-way through the evening, Single or Married – a recently-formed campus band featuring the vocal stylings of Mary Haasl ’16 and Isaac Maier ’16 – took the stage to sing a few of its favorite America themed duets. The audience adored the band, and its performance earned enthusiastic applause.

After reading a few more poems, the members of both houses thanked everyone for coming. Both hosting houses considered the event a huge success.

“The Wendell Berry House believes in the power of food to bring people together and strengthen communities, and I think that the Poetry House feels the same way about poetry,” said Kate Seybold ’15, Wendell Berry House House President. “That being said, it was wonderful to see the ability for sustainable food and poetry to draw people together for an evening.”

The combined effort from both houses resulted in an entertaining and enjoyable evening. Other members of the house agreed.

“It was so much fun to work with the Poetry House gals in an event that was a perfect combination of our house interests,” said Sarah Beam ’15. “Through that collaboration, we were able to bring together a large variety of people from the Olaf community to share in the joys of pastry and poetry.”

Through culinary and compositional creativity, commitment to sustainable living and cross-house collaboration, the Wendell Berry and Poetry Houses set high the standards for events to come later this year.