The needed addition of a UMass farmers’ market

By Nick Milano

A few weeks ago, a couple of my columns looked at different ways that the University of Massachusetts could work towards a more close-knit campus. Reactions differed among students. Some criticized the ideas as impossible, while more attacked my claim our campus is divided. One person in particular who agreed with my position that more needs to be done is Ruben Carrizosa, who actually wrote a paper on this very issue for a class last semester. As a columnist, it is flattering to hear that people read your writing, but it is even more exciting when they take a stand either with or against its argument.

In his proposal for a UMass farmer’s market, Ruben mentions that with such a large university, there are a variety of events which cater to its students, from arts to sports, but he argues that “these events cater to limited audiences only.” Immediately after reading my first column on the subject, Ruben got in touch with me to pass on his idea that a UMass farmer’s market should be introduced. I could not have agreed more.

There are plenty of reasons that a farmer’s market would work at UMass. First, the only way for students who live on campus to get fresh produce on a routine basis is to steal it from the Dining Commons or hop on a bus to the local grocery store. The hassle of getting to and from the store is often not worth it, and one can only get away with stealing so much fruit. So on the first issue, a farmer’s market would enable a steady supply of healthy, local produce.

Second, as Ruben argues in his proposal, the food industry today is dominated by large corporations and factory farms. My favorite part about UMass is that it is located in the middle of nowhere. There are farms everywhere around us. It is fun to just hop in a car and drive around the Connecticut River Valley, checking out the farms, the tobacco fields and barns and the landscape in general. One benefit is that fresh produce is right around the corner if people have the means of getting to the source. The large local supermarkets in the area, including Whole Foods, function through a regionalized warehouse system. This means that much of their products come from one central location. This puts a limit on individual stores’ ability to buy from local farmers. Sure some products, might be locally grown, but more often one has to travel to the actual farm or to places like Atkins Market to get genuine local produce.

A farmer’s market at UMass would highlight the quality of locally grown produce and help boost the local economy, especially at a time when all economies could use a strong infusion of capital. There is nothing better than browsing the stands at Haymarket in Boston – UMass could bring a similar atmosphere and help local farmers all at the same time. This would also give farmers a chance to convince students of the superiority of locally grown produce. This might lead to a healthier future for students who might be more conscious of the difference between regular, organic and local food crops.

Thirdly and most importantly, a farmer’s market, if held once a month, like Ruben suggests, on a central location like Haigis Mall or the area in front of the library, would generate campus-wide interest. Ruben mentions how similar ideas at several large universities like University of South Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas A&M have all been incredibly successful. And their success is not just derived from their ability to generate income for the local economy, but also in bringing a festive, exciting event to campus.

Like all big events, the logistics of such a gathering would be tough to overcome, but not impossible. One obvious weakness of a farmer’s market is its seasonality. Weather affects the availability of certain crops, but markets held during each month of the fall semester would be bountiful. Students would return to school just as the summer crops were maturing. Corn would be a staple at first, but very quickly, apples would replace them. As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, apples would begin to give way to gourds like squash, zucchini and pumpkins, as well as the potato and onion crop. A farmer’s market may not be feasible during spring semester, but fall would more than make up for it.

Ruben and I both graduate in May, so we will not see this idea come to fruition, yet, this does not inhibit our desire to see it happen. The University boasts an incredible collection of diverse students. There seems to be an activity for everyone on this campus. This should be applauded; yet, at the same time it causes the campus to be less compact than it might naturally be. Certain parts of campus are for certain types of kids and certain activities for particular groups of people. SOM is a cult whose high school atmosphere and appearance is sickening. The engineers seem sequestered in one corner of campus. Orchard Hill is for nerds – and I am a former resident. A large farmer’s market at UMass is just another idea, albeit a better one than my previous ideas, to help bring the entire UMass community together.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].