There is Such Thing as a Free Lunch

The urban agriculture program at the University of San Francisco launched in fall 2012 as a way for students to get involved with the school’s community garden “learning advanced skills in gardening, permaculture, urban homesteading, sustainable living, and local food production and distribution” (usfca.edu).

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As a senior at USF, I look back at my time and it is clear to me how important the garden is to my college experience. For the first two years, I struggled to find my purpose in college; What was I interested in? Why am I here? Why is school so stressful? I thought about dropping out almost every semester for a while because nothing was feeling right. Two years ago, I had my first garden class and as I walked through the garden, I felt a breath of fresh air, both physically and mentally. As I spent the first semester working and learning in the garden, I fell in love and found my passion in the plants and the food I was growing. I found my purpose at USF.

Photos working in the USF garden this summer

I’ve spent the remainder of my USF career benefiting from and promoting the urban ag minor and the garden itself. This week, we will take a look at the USF farm stand as a true farm to table experience. “Farm to table” is a term that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years as food sources have become a hot topic. Farm to table refers to the stages of food production and a recent movement is concerned with producing food locally and delivering that food to local consumers. This year, in addition to food we are lucky enough to use fresh flowers from our garden to beautify the space.

These marigolds straight from the garden, were used as decoration at farm stand as an example of farm to table

Currently, the urban ag minor, coordinated by professor David Silver, is slowly growing as the food movement in San Francisco gains momentum. Events and services are hosted by students in these classes and include a free community dinner once a month at nearby St. Cyprian’s Church and the USF farm stand.

Farm stand takes place on campus once a month as students prepare a free meal for their peers using produce grown in our own garden. This year we are really focusing on what is available in the garden rather than using store bought produce. Students spend their afternoon serving the dishes they prepared in groups before time. Each student is expected to do their part either by harvesting veggies from the USF garden, gleaning at the farmers market for additional produce, or shop for additional ingredients that can’t be provided by a local source. Gleaning is the process of going around local farmers markets, asking farmers if they have any extra produce to donate to our cause. Our cause is providing fresh, healthy, locally sourced, and affordable food for members of our community in order to educate them on the school’s garden and the urban ag program. Set up next to the farm stand is the USF seed library provided by Gleeson Library, where there are veggie and flower seeds available to grow at home and to donate back.

The seed library is always accessible as you walk into the Gleeson Library

The class sets up the farm stand with tables and signs to attract other students. One of the biggest challenges of the farm stand is actually to get people to eat free food! You would think that providing a free, healthy meal would be something students would be very interested in but there’s something about offering anything free that is sort of, unbelievable.

This week, the garden provided us with two types of kale, peas, potatoes, lettuce, basil, and nasturtiums (edible flowers). Two students gleaned at the Castro farmers market and received beets, zucchini, and cucumbers and another student gleaned peaches from the Santa Rosa farms. The menu was based off of what was available at the garden and what they received at the farmers market.

Veggies harvested from USF garden

Around 12:15, just as the lunch hour is in full effect, student and teachers walk across campus going from one class to the next, heading to the cafeteria, or finishing up for the day. That’s when they run into the farm stand. Located in front of the library and in the middle of main campus, it’s impossible to miss.

Students serve their peers a fresh and healthy lunch

Many people see the farm stand but continue walking. But there were also many people that did stop and even came by specifically for the farm stand meal. We handed out marigolds freshly picked from the USF garden to attract people passing by. This is the first year that USF is experimenting with growing flowers so it was really a wonderful sight to see students walking around with these beautiful yellow and orange flowers that I had helped plant earlier this summer.

Collin and Maddie show off our marigolds
Students spread out around campus to hand out flowers and direct other students towards farm stand

There was a line from start to finish, and the food only last about 45 min! Each plate is donation based, and people are encouraged to donate a few dollars to the cause so students in the class can get paid back for what they purchased. We made over $70 this week from donations, so we ended up making money which rarely happens.

Students enjoying their free meal on the grass, one boy even wore his flower in his hair!

After the food was all gone, the class sat together and discussed what went right and what they wanted to improve for next time. Professor, Rachel Lee commented on the “great teamwork and great job moving things along!” She explained that this group brings a positive and calm energy which was received by other students and resulted in positive feedback and appreciation of the class. Rachel also suggested for next month that the class could bring in other elements to educate people on the garden like value added products from the garden or educational brochures.

Overall, the lunch was fun, delicious, organized, and a really nice way for USF students to learn about their garden.

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