September was busy for Jonny Hunter. Not only did his start his second year of graduate school in the Master of Public Affairs program, but he helped to prepare a meal for author Michael Pollan the night after the writer lectured to 8,000 people as part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Go Big Read program.
Two weeks earlier Hunter fed 700 bicycle riders at the third Bike the Barns fund-raiser for the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition's Partner Shares Program that raises money to help improve access to fresh, organic vegetables from local farms for underserved and low-income households. “It was a wonderful day that benefits an important and meaningful cause,” Hunter says.
Hunter is co-founder of the Underground Food Collective, a catering company that emphasizes the use of sustainable agriculture and local foods. The collective has earned national attention for its dinners the chefs design around pigs raised for them by a Wisconsin farmer. Called A Celebration of the PreIndustrial Pig, these meal events feature locally produced ingredients. The collective has hosted dinners in Madison, Chicago and New York, picking up press coverage in Gourmet and the New York Times.
To feed and organize 700 bicycle riders, Hunter tapped his La Follette School classmates to volunteer and a few more to ride. “Emily Plagman played a really big role in organizing Bike the Barns this year,” Hunter says. “She was on the organizing committee and oversaw the registration and start.” Plagman is president of the La Follette School Student Association and is in her second year of earning a Master of International Public Affairs and an energy policy certificate.
Hunter and his Underground cohort, which includes his brother Ben Hunter, Kris Noren and Jon Atwell, were “involved in every aspect of the ride, from the planning to support, and we provided food at three of the stops this year,” Jonny Hunter says. The 52-mile ride highlighted three local community-supported agriculture and direct market farms.
At La Follette, Hunter is focusing his studies on agriculture policy. He has volunteered with MACSAC, Midwest Social Forum, Buy Fresh Buy Local and FH Students for Sustainable Agriculture.
Looking ahead, Hunter and the Underground Food Collective anticipate producing at least four PreIndustrial Pig dinners in Madison, with the first possibly in November. “We have 10 pigs coming to us this year,” Hunter says. “Some are already processed, and some are still grazing on pasture and eating from the orchard at the farm. We are most likely headed back to NYC in January and would like to do dinners in Milwaukee, Ann Arbor and Detroit. If everything goes according to plans we will start processing and butchering pigs and have an artisan line of salamis, pâté and cured hams that we sell under our own label.”
As for cooking for author Michael Pollan: “We really enjoyed making the meal and then after it was over we had the chance to chat with him for about an hour,” Hunter says. “He is such an important figure in changing the food system that the chance to make dinner for him was an honor.”
Guerrilla Cuisine: Ben and Jonny Hunter's ad hoc approach to transforming food culture, September 25, 2009, Isthmus
Student's dinner shares Wisconsin bounty with New Yorkers, February 2, 2009, La Follette School News
Student helps bike ride raise $20,000 for food program, October 8, 2008, La Follette School News