HAMMOND — Members of the Southeastern Louisiana University group Reconnect are continuing their mission to bring locally grown food to campus.
One of the ways they’re accomplishing their goal is to host Farmers Markets twice a semester so that students can have access to locally grown fruits and vegetables.
On April 25, two co-ops and one local farmer brought their wares — strawberries, blueberries, sweet potatoes, onions, green peppers, carrots, mustard greens, honey, turnips, snap peas, salad mix, brussel sprouts, kale and blackberries — to students.
The Farmers Market was held outside of the Student Union and drew a crowd of students hoping to find something healthy to eat on campus.
“It definitely brings diversity to campus,” said SLU student Desiree Falgout, as she talked about the wide array of fast food offered on campus.
“I think it’s pretty cool to support them (local farmers),” Falgout said. “I like to grow my own stuff too.”
Southeastern student Shelly Spann had heard about the Farmers Market on campus and decided to see what local farmers had to offer.
“I think it’s really, really great to have this because I love the idea of supporting our local farmers, and it’s really healthy so that’s good too,” Spann said.
“It’s a benefit to Southeastern,” Spann said. “It makes locally grown produce accessible to college students.”
Reconnect President Bonnie May was happy with last week’s turnout. The Farmers Market held in March didn’t draw many people because of bad weather, she said.
But last week, many farmers had sold most of their produce by 11 a.m., an hour and a half after the market officially opened for business, May said.
“We came in the fall and had a very good turnout so we decided to come again,” said Bruce Harrell, of the Pointe Coupee Minority Farmers Cooperative.
“This is a chance for college students to have fresh vegetables,” he said.
Harrell, who had come to the market with sweet potatoes and blackberries, had run out of blackberries just before 11 a.m.
Heather Robertson, of JohnDale Farms, agreed that the Farmers Market had been a success.
“It’s been good,” Robertson said. “It’s different. They’re (college students) so excited about the fresh fruit.”
Robertson said she came to the market to “help out and let them know where their fresh fruit is coming from.”
Chef Phil O’Donnell was also on hand to prepare the fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It’s an example of how to cook the ingredients, and recipes for how to cook the items,” Reconnect member Amy Edwards said.
In addition to the Farmers Market, Reconnect members are working with Aramark to bring local food to the campus, May said.
Aramark provides food services, facilities management, and uniform and career apparel to health-care institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses around the world. However, the food they use isn’t brought in by local farmers, May said.
The Real Food Challenge, a national campaign of which Reconnect is a part, aims to increase the amount of “real food” or locally grown food on college and university campuses, with the national goal of 20 percent real food by 2020.
The Real Food Challenge describes real food as a food system “that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability.”
But in January, the vice president of higher education of Aramark, Mark Nelson, issued a memo to his employees asking them not to talk with university students involved in the Real Food Challenge, May said.
Following a National Day of Action, during which students across the country sent emails and phone calls to Aramark, the company is once again talking with students, May said.
SLU sent the second-largest number of emails to the company, May said.
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