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AASHE 2011: Farmers Markets

My last two sessions of AASHE 2011 both dealt with farmers markets, from two very different perspectives: a school in British Columbia with a resistant food services contractor and a school in Arizona with campus-wide support.

A sustainability manager and a professor of forest ecology from University of Northern British Columbia talked about their experiences starting up a farmers market in the far north. As can be expected, fresh fruit and vegetables are lacking, and they focus more on dried, canned, or otherwise preserved food. They work hard to make the market not just a place to shop, but to socialize and be entertained, as well. (A definite argument for music at Berklee’s market.) They don’t have the support of their food services contractor, which, as you can imagine, makes it more difficult. We’re lucky to have a food services director, Jessica Mackool from ARAMARK, who is passionate about these issues. She singlehandedly started the farmers market during Green Week this April and quickly expanded it to a monthly event.

Danielle Smyth and Scott Green from the University of Northern British Columbia

The other presentation was much more applicable to our situation. The sustainability coordinator (Rebecca Reining) and the food services director (Katrin Shum) from Arizona State University detailed the planning of their farmers market. This was all initiated by the students, who did a report on a market’s viability and requested it repeatedly. A pilot market was held in September 2009, and monthly markets began in February of 2010 (expanded to twice a month in October). This was a broad collaboration between the sustainability office, wellness program, ARAMARK, health and counseling, Arizona Farmers Markets, and many more. (I feel like I’ve had blinders on that I haven’t even considered involving our wellness program in our own farmers market.) Three offices even transferred $1,000 from their own budgets to support the market, and members of the committee spent 4–5 hours a week working on it.  Their schedule is 9:00–2:00 every other Tuesday, September through November and January through April. Berklee’s runs April through October, and I definitely saw a drop off in attendance this summer. However, I’d hate to ignore the summer students, and with such an urban campus, I have to think we could get more local residents attending in the summer with more marketing. Some other suggestions that we could take to help students actually use the food: selling local and organic prepared lunches and offering microwavable recipes.

It was heartening to see someone struggling with the same issues we have, if on a larger scale, and hear their solutions to them. October 27 is our last farmers market of the season, but I hope that we can build a larger coalition to bring Berklee’s farmers market back better than ever in April.

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