“When we’re bringing foods into our bodies, the choices that we’re making can make a big difference in terms of how the land and air and soil are treated,” Toben said.
Dinner dates include Aug. 31, Sept. 21, Oct. 19 and Nov. 9. Pre-registration is recommended and available on the Eco-Institute’s website. The Eco-Institute is also happy to accommodate any dietary needs and restrictions, including those who are gluten-free.
“Vegan and non-vegan folks have really loved the foods and how fresh and delicious they taste,” Toben said. “And how wonderful the company is. The community experience is really a special part of it.”
Abbey Cmiel, a senior at UNC, is part of the Eco-Institute’s community-supported agriculture program. CSAs are programs that help connect consumers directly to farmers by offering shares of the farm for purchase. Normally, a farm would set aside a portion of their crops for pickup by CSA members, but the Eco-Institute allows members to pick their food directly.
Recently, Cmiel harvested okra, squash, corn, basil, peppers and wildflowers. She said last week, she picked so many Sungold tomatoes that she was able to share them in class with friends and fellow food-lovers as a late afternoon snack.
“It’s a very spiritual place, a place that connects you back to nature,” Cmiel said of the Eco-Institute. “It feels so peaceful. I feel like I can breathe and just take it all in.”
The celebration of food’s connection to spirituality and the Earth is at the heart of the Eco-Institute. Dane uses local food and resources to help curate the menu for each dinner. She works with herbalists, beekeepers and food industry philosophers, amongst others, to showcase what healthy, sustainable meals can be.
Dane worked at the Hollywood restaurant AMMO during Los Angeles’ farm-to-table movement before launching multiple restaurants in New York City. She moved back to North Carolina to help found Honeysuckle Tea House. At the Eco-Institute, she also teaches cooking workshops to both kids and adults.
Mary Selzer, a senior food studies major at UNC who worked in London, England, for Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, also emphasizes the importance of local and sustainable food systems.
“Food is deeply connected to most local and global food systems,” Selzer said. “It impacts the environment, the economy, public health and even drives the ways humans socialize with one another.”
Selzer encourages making informed and purposeful decisions when eating, and going further than to treat cooking as an obligation.
“If one has the access and resources to do so, making educated buying and consumption decisions can transform eating from a menial everyday task into a political tool,” she said.
The Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain is located eight miles west of Chapel Hill on 38 acres of farmland, gardens and community space.