URI’s Free Farmers Market Wins National Sustainability Award – URI News

KINGSTON, RI – September 1, 2022 – A team effort by employees across the University of Rhode Island campus recently led to recognition by the National Association of College & University Food Services. URI recently received news that it won this year’s Grand Prize Sustainability Award for Outreach and Education in recognition of its Free Farmers Market launched last year.

It’s a long way from farm to table. The work began long before last year when Dr. Plant Science Professor Rebecca Brown and her student crew began growing crops in URI’s teaching garden. Cultivation takes place at URI’s Agronomy Farm on the west edge of campus, where students grow vegetables from planting to harvest on 30 acres of farmland, research and grow a variety of crops, and donate tons of produce annually. Master gardeners and other community volunteers help with the harvest and also pick fruit at East Farm.

The idea of ​​a free market originated as a conversation between a handful of employees, including Kelli Kidd, a nutritionist in the healthcare and athletics departments, and Sharon Pavignano, associate director of corporate and foundation relations and master gardener. Kidd and Pavignano then posed the question: How might the surplus food from the university’s research farms be connected to the larger URI community? The farms had previously shared food with the Graduate Village, the Jonnycake Center, and the Rhody Outpost pantry. But there was still so much produced during the annual fall harvest.

What better way to share the wealth than by setting up a table or two around the square?

Holding a weekly farmer’s market in the middle of campus was no small feat. Kidd and Dr. Amanda Missimer worked with URI’s Gardner Crops Research Center teaching garden, where Rebecca Brown supervised student workers harvesting produce; Students in the vegetable growing class of Dr. Brown and the nutrition classes of Dr. Missimer and Dr. Sarah Amin helped collect additional plants and distribute the produce. Greenhouse/Farm Manager Tim Sherman transported the produce to the Quad each week.

On-site, chef Aaron Fitzsenry offered delicious cooking demonstrations to attract passers-by. Crunchy apples harvested from East Farm’s orchards were a portable snack for students heading to class. Other departments followed suit, from counseling and campus recreation to health education and cooperative building. And a grant from Amica, secured by Pavignano and the URI Foundation, helped round out the offering with the funds needed for seeds and fertilizer etc.

Fitzsenry said he knew they had created something special once he started spotting participants in the market week in and week out. The “jack of all trades” mood means that students can freely approach and claim the bounty; it’s all free.

As student customers visit the market every week, they not only learn about food production but also learn new parts of the university.

Kidd said the effort had both psychological and physical benefits – the outdoor market offers positive and safe interactions and volunteers enjoy a chance to connect with a core area of ​​the school’s mission. The program also stands out for being one of the few to do something like this, definitely in Rhode Island and probably in New England, she said.

market basket

The products offered are fresh as possible, picked on Wednesday and distributed on Thursday.

This year’s market will feature some returning favorites and new selections. Visitors can expect watermelon, squash and parsnips, as well as eggs from Peckham Farm. Brown said they will start the semester with lunchbox basil, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and other summer favorites. “As the weather cools, we will have an abundance of kale, lettuce, chard, carrots, potatoes and other fall veggies. Hopefully something for everyone!” They are also hoping for a visit from Mary Parlange’s chickens.

Fitzsenry enjoys working at a land grant university where the study of food farming is part of the curriculum, indeed one of URl’s responsibilities. “Meeting and working with people who are highly knowledgeable about food systems in an environment that encourages learning and improvement has been personally rewarding,” he commented.

“The Free Farmers Market is a prime example of how something can become more than the sum of its parts,” he said.

The prolific URI farmers also contributed to an impressive bottom line that the university’s math and economics majors would approve. Last year the farm brought in over £5,100 in produce which, if bought wholesale, would have cost the university an estimated $9,884.00. Instead, this has been shared for free with more than 1,400 people in the URI community.

This year’s free Farmers’ Market begins on Thursday, September 8th and runs weekly until the last Thursday in October (11am – 12pm and 2pm – 3pm). Bring a reusable shopping bag or pick one up locally from FFM’s sponsors: Health Services, Nutrition and Food Sciences, Hospitality, Campus Recreation, and the URI Advisory Center.

“This group effort was especially nice to see,” said Pierre St-Germain, director of URI Dining Services, “not only because we were feeding people, but also because of the outreach and education involved. This kind of robust collaboration across faculties is what really defines a collaborative university.”

The market is open to anyone in the URI community, student or employee, on or off campus. All are welcome and invited to visit.

To volunteer at the harvest or market, click on the Free Farmers Market link at Nutrition and Food Sciences.

Follow us at @urifreefarmersmarket.

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