Farmers markets take root on campus

CorrespondentMarch 24, 2010 

  • N.C. State University. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays during spring and fall semesters; fresh produce, salsa, soaps, cheeses, meats, eggs. Located at Campus Brickyard.

    Duke Farmers Market. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, starting April 23 and through the end of July. Every other week Aug. 13, Aug. 27 and Sept. 10; fresh, locally grown produce. Located next to the Bryan Research Building and the Searle Center.

If it's true that college students live on pizza and hot wings, then what is a farmers market doing in the middle of the N.C. State University campus?

The stereotype of the student diet, while still common, is changing, market organizers say. The fact that the market is in its second year and has doubled the number of vendors is proof.

"There's a small but growing number of students who are interested in better food, and it's growing quickly," says Eric Ballard, who helped found the market. "We see regulars every week who look forward to the market, and we always get new customers."

Each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the spring and fall semesters, tents go up in a corner of the Brickyard for eight vendors of North Carolina products. They're selling fresh produce, salsa, soaps, cheeses, meats, eggs and more.

The market will be open through May 5 and reopen Sept. 2 and run through Nov. 18. The market doesn't operate at times when the campus is closed, such as spring break.

The market was a student-driven idea. In 2009, Ballard and other students got interested in sustainable agriculture and wanted a way to make good, sustainably produced food available on campus.

The idea of farmers markets on college campuses isn't new - one operates at Duke University, among others - but the NCSU market may be unusual in the level of student involvement in running it.

In 2009, students talked to university administrators about organizing a market, says Ballard, who has since graduated but still works with the market.

The administration and students liked the idea, but a campus market was a harder sell to farmers and vendors.

"At first, we had to beg vendors to come," Ballard says. "Out of about 30 I would approach, four would agree. Now we have vendors calling us."

The market requires that at least 70 percent of the goods vendors sell are their own. Vendors pay a fee of $5 per day.

Ron West of Carolina Grits & Co. in Rocky Mount sells grits and cornmeal each week at the market. "I've been pleasantly surprised at the response," he says.

The Pasta Fairy - aka Andrea Morrell - drives from Boone to sell her handmade frozen filled ravioli. She sees the campus market as a chance to meet customers and other vendors to raise awareness of her product in the Raleigh area.

The market has a blog, http://campusfarmersmkt. wordpress.com/. Market manager Ariel Ruth Fugate, a sophomore, sends weekly e-mail messages about market specials to a listserv with 300 members. Plus, the market has 1,000 Facebook friends and 150 Twitter followers.

Because students do eventually graduate, Fugate says that the group is organizing student committees to keep the market going. There are committees for education, fundraising, publicity and market management, along with a faculty adviser.

She thinks that the interest among students and others in the university community -- maybe beyond, into nearby neighborhoods and restaurants - will continue to grow.

"We think that if students buy this food and taste it, they'll see the difference in flavor," Fugate says.

At a recent market, freshman Elizabeth Wait stopped to buy apples from Wise Farms in Mount Olive, which was one of the first vendors to sign on.

"Living in the dorm, it's hard to get out to get fresh things. It was really nice last fall when they had watermelons," Wait said. "I like the availability. I'm glad the market is here because you can get healthy snacks."

"You can walk right through and get lunch between classes," says sophomore Amanda Wilkins, pointing out different vendors. "There's peanut butter there and bread there."

Faculty and staff take advantage of the market, too.

"I can do my shopping here," says Kim Howell, a research assistant. "This market is the greatest thing in the world."

Even if there isn't a hot wing in sight.

Reach Debbie Moose at www.debbiemoose.com.

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