The Office of Sustainability brought the growing culture of organic and locally grown produce to Mason with an organization called The Farm Table.
The Farm Table is a food co-op, or cooperation Farmer’s Market. According to The Barking Cat Farm website, a food co-op is a middleman between the farmer and the consumer. The middleman usually buys wholesale, similarly to a grocery store.
“Our whole goal was to support the local farmer, so what we were trying to do was find a way where they can sell their produce easily to consumers,” Duane Slyder from the Farm Table said. “We came up with this concept and what we do is we actually home deliver price-level produce. So we’re the largest food co-op in Virginia now. We deliver up here in Northern Virginia, we’re down in Richmond and from Williamsburg down to Virginia Beach.”
According to Slyder, the organization started four years ago and works with nine farms that return annually. The Farm Table makes sure produce is picked within 48 hours of delivery. Some of the farms this past week were from Charlottesville, Richmond, Heathsville, Frederiksberg and the Shenandoah Valley.
“We try to stay within a 150 miles of where we deliver. So this week it is all Virginia. Once in a while we kind of end up in North Carolina just a little,” Slyder said.
Slyder said that Mason is the first university that The Farm Table is working with. However, the organization is currently talking to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to expand their distribution.
Danielle Wyman, the director of outreach at the Office of Sustainability, tried out the produce offered from the organization before deciding to bring it to Mason. According to Wyman, Mason has had farmer’s markets in the past. It was unsuccessful because most of locally grown produce is harvested in the summer time.
The Farm Table sources from a larger variety of farmers so that distribution lasts for most of the year. Also, it was important for Wyman that all of the farms attributed to The Farm Table produce in an environmentally friendly way.
“My goal for the Farmer’s Market is really is to one of course get folks excited about locally grown and fresh seasonal produce,” Wyman said. “One of my very large goals is I love the idea that we’re supporting local farmers and local agriculture in the area because the average age of farmers in Virginia is 75. So there’s a really important need to get younger people, younger generations excited and engaged supporting local agriculture either through purchasing power or through becoming involved with growing food.”
Students can become a Farm Table member for $50 per year by registering on thefarmtable.org. Mason students are offered $15 dollars off with the discount code “Mason2014.” Every Friday a menu is sent out to members. They can pick up three different kinds of boxes: a garden box, chef box, and breakfast box.
“The garden box is a little more conducive to people who don’t want to cook a whole lot, so it’s doing things like carrots and salads and apples. You know things that don’t require a whole lot of preparation in order for you to eat them,” Wyman said. “And then there’s a chef box that has wild veggies like the kohlrabi [a cabbage] and the squash and the things that are wonderful and delicious, but they require a little bit more cooking.”
According to Slyder, the garden and chef boxes each cost $28.50 and the cost of the breakfast box fluctuates, depending on what is offered that week. Unlike the non co-op, Community Supported Agriculture organization, students do not have to buy a box every week. They can also buy add-ons, instead of purchasing a box.
The produce offered this past week included apples, beans, beets, bok choy [Chinese cabbage], carrots, kohlrabi, squash, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers and even bread from Flour Garden Bakery in Richmond, Virginia.
“[I’m] trying something new, but it looks delicious,” freshman and neuroscience major, Vivian Vasquez said. “I bought these garlic cheese bread things. They look really good [and] I’m excited to eat them.”
The Farmer’s Market at Mason will be at the East Plaza every Thursday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. until Christmas. It will return to campus in February 2015.
Photo credit: Amy Podraza