The idea that organic, locally grown, fresh produce should be readily available to college students on and off campus is becoming more tangible, thanks to the University of Idaho Soil Stewards.
Soil Stewards provides students with fresh, organic, student-grown produce and a chance to volunteer on the club’s 3-acre off-campus farm. Now, that farm could get more accessible for students.
Recently, Soil Stewards were given help from the UI Sustainability Council and Professor Traci Lee’s Business 378 class in surveying students.
Together, the Sustainability Council and students in Lee’s class conducted a survey geared toward UI students.
The survey showed that 67 percent of the 1,036 surveyed students supported an increase in student fees to support the Soil Stewards farm and 40 percent of students were interested in a meal plan that included locally grown produce.
Brita Olson, Soil Stewards club president, said the information will help fulfill the club’s dream to be an on-campus farm.
“The dream is to be on campus because it would be easier to involve students and get volunteers, be a part of campus life,” Olson said.
Olson said the current farm is a truck farm located at the Parker Plant Science Farm. She described the farm as a small produce production farm that provides fresh, organic produce to shareholders, students and the UI campus.
“We grow potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, kale, lettuce, basil, hot peppers, bell peppers, dill, cilantro … all the good stuff,” Olson said.
Olson said moving the farm to campus would also allow the group to fulfill safety regulations held by Campus Dining, which would allow the group to sell its produce to UI and begin a meal plan that includes the student-produced organic goods.
Moving the farm to campus would also reduce its carbon footprint, which caught the attention of Jeannie Matheison, Sustainability Council program coordinator.
Matheison said part of her job with the Sustainability Center is to support 13 student-run programs in institutionalizing sustainable practices.
Matheison said this year was named the Year of Food by the Sustainability Council, and as a result she is dedicated to helping the Soil Stewards fulfill any needs they have. According to Matheison, the Soil Stewards have been struggling financially for years.
Olson said Soil Stewards is funded mostly by Community Supported Agriculture — a system in which interested parties buy shares of the farm in return for weekly deliveries of produce.
Olson and other members told Matheison that the club has seven needs.
Matheison said these needs are relocation, a farm manager, paid student staff, volunteers, a farm stand, a direct contract with UI and funding from student fees.
Matheison said a $1 student fee increase would provide Soil Stewards with $20,000 a year — enough to allow the farm to fulfill the safety requirements Soil Stewards must meet to provide students with fresh produce in their meal plans.
Olson and Matheison said to acquire a contract with Sodexo — the campus dining catering company — the farm needs to have hand washing stations, a perimeter fence, bathroom facilities and other safety considerations.
Bruno Bennett, BUS 378 student and ASUI senator, helped conduct the survey and said it sparked his interest in the student-run farm. He said he is now supporting the Soil Stewards as a senator and advocating for funding for the group. Senators give a regular budget recommendation to UI, Bennett said, so he can be a voice for the cause when the next budget plan is underway.
The survey showed a great amount of support for the relocation of the farm, said Matheison.
Olson said the need for volunteers is still an issue for the club. The Soil Stewards recently started a new volunteer program called Get Dirty in honor of the club’s 10-year anniversary.
Produce harvested by the volunteers is shipped to the campus, shareholders, and is used in other events hosted by the club including a Harvest Dinner.
Volunteers help harvest, weed and plant the produce, Olson said.
“Another aspect is the practical experience volunteers get by digging in the dirt and harvesting food, it’s very rewarding,” Olson said.
The Soil Stewards are now in the beginning phases of relocating. Olson said volunteers will be needed soon to “lay the farm to rest,” or to do the final harvest of the season.
Danielle Wiley can be reached at email@example.com