Bringing the farm to school

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The Student Union Building (SUB) never smelled so fresh. Baskets full of local apples and tomatoes sat next to piles of squash, garlic, lettuces, bread loaves and rows of canned fruit and homemade jams, all offered at stalls lining the Michèle Pujol Room for UVic’s first-ever local community market on Oct. 24. There has been strong support for a campus market over the years from the community and various groups involved in public health, environmental and geography studies and agriculture.

“ There isn’t [a market] in this part of Victoria — Oaklands is the closest one, and that only started this summer,” says Rita Fromholt, market organizer and sustainability co-ordinator in the Office of Campus Planning and Sustainability, “so the neighbours said that they would really support it as well. It’s also a way for UVic to service the surrounding communities as well as our campus population.”

The local community market hosted 13 vendors, five of which were organic producers. Many markets that support local and organic agriculture are held downtown during the summer. This community market, however, coincided with the fall harvest and was more than just a farmers’ market. There were pie-making and fruit-canning demonstrations, as well as a raffle draw and pumpkin-carving contest. Musicians played live folk music in one corner and added to the upbeat chatter of students, families and community members. The vendors, too, seemed to be having a good time: the gluten-free bakery booth and the homemade salsa stand both sold out of all their goods by the end of the night.

“It’s been great,” says Jon Newton, who stocked a table full of his homemade hot sauce, Dad’s Westcoast Wildfire Awesome Sauce. “There should be more markets on campus as far as I’m concerned — even once a week!”

While selling local, organic food was central to the event, the organizers also emphasized collaboration across environmental and agricultural groups. Some promoted their initiatives and showed ways of getting educated and involved in healthy and sustainable eating without necessarily growing one’s own food or buying from farmers. The Urban Harvest Project had a map that shows where people can casually harvest from blackberry bushes and plum trees, a project started in a geography class by fourth-year student Kyle Yen and his classmates. LifeCycles is an organization involved in planting community and elementary school gardens. It also organizes the Fruit Tree Project, which gathers residentially grown fruit that would otherwise go to waste and then distributes it to homeowners, volunteers, food banks and community organizations.

UVic Food Services was also involved in the market to promote the work they’ve done to support sustainable agriculture. Roughly 50 per cent of the vegetables UVic Food Services uses are grown on the Island, and almost 40 per cent of meats and all baked goods are locally sourced. No farmed salmon is purchased, and all coffee is organic and fair trade.

“The campus is different from the neighbourhood hosting [a market] — we’ve got so much going on here,” says Fromholt. “I wanted to have an educational component built into it around why supporting local farmers [and] food security is important because a lot of students are interested in those topics, so this is a way to bring us all together in a fun atmosphere at the same time. Part of the education is that healthy, local, organic produce costs more than your basic grocery store. Not that much more, but it’s worth it because that’s what food is really worth, and we should support these local businesses making an effort to have healthy food available.”

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