UT Farm Stand educates students on sustainability

Sydney Mahl

Nestled between the concrete towers of Jester Dormitory and within Kinsolving’s courtyard lie two gardens where students plant and harvest sustainably grown produce.

UT Farm Stand began in December 2015 when students partnered with the Division of Housing and Food Services to create a cost-effective farmer’s market on campus. In addition to the monthly market, UT Farm Stand educates students about sustainable and healthy food practices.

DHFS’s sustainability coordinator Neil Kaufman believes UT Farm Stand and DHFS initiatives help students seek out and implement sustainable practices beyond campus.

“We like to set the expectation for every student who is even slightly aware of our gardens (to) demand more sustainability initiatives and sustainable practices,” Kaufman said. “If we set the bar really high, students can take that high standard elsewhere.”

Students like neuroscience sophomore Lucero Castaneda, who frequents UT Farm Stand’s markets, take this standard seriously.

“You know that the money is going back to your local community and is not going to a big corporation doing whatever they have to do just to get money out of people,” Castaneda said. “Buying from UT Farm Stand is good for your health, for the environment and for UT.”

Kaufman said he does not consider UT Farm Stand to be a business because their main goal isn’t to make a profit. Rather, he said the goal is to educate and provide affordable produce to students with ramen budgets. 

“Our students are trained on how they can use this produce so we’re able to write recipe cards and have conversations with students or staff,” Kaufman said.

Seasonal produce sold at the market includes carrots, cucumbers and onions, but can also include lesser-known vegetables like kohlrabi, black garlic and rainbow chard. The variety gives UT Farm Stand members the opportunity to educate buyers, said Kaufman. 

“Even if we don’t sell a lot, if we feel like we have done a lot in terms of educating students on the value of local, sustainable and nutritious foods, then we’ve had a very successful event,” Kaufman said.

Nick Birk, UT Farm Stand member and biology and public health junior, said one of his main goals in participating with UT Farm Stand is to educate students on the communal benefits of buying locally. 

“Everything UT Farm Stand stands for are things that I also value,” Birk said. “When you buy local produce, it sort of has this community feeling to it — it’s a lot like supporting your neighbors. When we don’t buy from farms in our own area we’re not supporting the people we have in our community.”

UT Farm Stand’s media coordinator Niku Hansen, an urban studies junior, said she likes how UT Farm Stand provides students a unique way to be involved.

“One of the most successful things is the day of the market and seeing people get so excited about fresh food,” Hansen said. “For me, it’s about what do I feel good about eating and what do I feel comfortable with.”

Birk and Kaufman said they hope UT Farm Stand will be able to hold more frequent events in the fall if they are awarded a new Green Fee Grant they recently applied for.

“Visiting a farmer’s market is always a very interesting social experience — it’s always fun,” Birk said. “I encourage everyone to visit one. We’re making sure UT Farm Stand remains a staple. We’ll be here to stay.”