Breaking bread together differently
Breaking bread together differently

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Gravatt Camp and Conference Center is an Episcopal camp and retreat center located in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Like many diocesan camps and retreat centers, it’s a place where communities are created and God is experienced. A lot of that happens around the dinner table.

For as long as most people can remember, Gravatt has been known for its delicious food. In my first year as executive director in 2007, I gained the “freshman 15,” thanks to the crispy fried chicken, buttery biscuits, and Gravatt squares (a delightfully decadent peanut butter and chocolate treat that is nicely paired with a glass of milk). Ask any adult who had been to Gravatt, and what they remembered most fondly was the food.

I attended a conference of the Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers at the Duncan Gray Center in Mississippi in January 2009, and it was there that I first heard the term “food philosophy” at one of the breakout sessions. I came back energized to develop our food philosophy – to truly become intentional about the food we serve and the impact it has on our guests and campers. Clearly food was an important part of what we were doing, but I wanted to be sure that through our food, we were speaking our values.

It took almost three years for us to complete our food philosophy and get it on paper. During that time we had discussions about what we wanted to say with our food. We knew that we wanted to feed more than people’s bellies, but also their hearts, heads, and souls. We don’t always follow it perfectly, but we strive to do so. Writing the philosophy down and referring to it often, we have raised expectation on ourselves, and as a result have improved the quality of our food and the experience of our guests enjoying it.

Since developing our food philosophy, Gravatt has:

  • Planted, harvested, and served almost 10,000 pounds of fresh vegetables. Before our philosophy, we had a box garden that yielded a couple of baskets a year.
  • Harvested over 5000 fresh eggs from chickens we keep.
  • Allowed campers, students, and volunteers to participate in the planting, harvesting, and preparation of food from our garden and the care of the chickens so they can see and experience first-hand where their food comes from.
  • Developed a CSA (community supported agriculture) Program that allows community members to purchase garden shares and participate in the risk and the bounty of farming.
  • Committed to purchase local foods as much as possible serve local foods at every meal.
  • Intentionally informed guests and campers where the food they are eating at Gravatt was grown or produced.
  • Changed our serving system to eliminate food waste.
  • Changed our purchasing habits to include more environmentally friendly, compostable, recycled, and/or recyclable products.
  • Begun composting food and napkins, which accounted for more than 1/3 of our trash.
  • Strengthened our recycling program which now diverts 70% of our waste from the landfill.
  • Provided healthier options for guests at all meals. We do still have fried chicken and Gravatt squares, but they are better balanced offerings with fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Found creative ways to allow our guests to thank the staff that prepares their food.
  • Worked with camp staff to develop new meal time blessings.

All of these changes were made consciously as a result of our food philosophy. It’s been an exciting process that continues to evolve. Developing a food philosophy can also be important in our churches and homes and will make people healthier as well as increase good stewardship practices.

Lauri SoJourner is the Executive Director of Gravatt Camp and Conference Center, where she lives on site with her husband, four children, and a small zoo of animals.  She can be reached at director@campgravatt.org or contact the Bishop Gravatt Center 803.648.1817.

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