By Lance Reynolds
Lizzie McCarty, ’18, spent long, hot days during the summer working on the St. Michael’s Permaculture Farm across Route 15 behind the Pomerleau Alumni Center. The senior environmental science major was one of three full-time employees on the farm, and she fought through moments of frustration, especially when she spent days weeding all day.
But McCarty has seen the fruits of her labor come to the plate. Through the help of McCarty and the rest of the farm’s summer crew, students on the Green Mountain Dining Hall plan now have the opportunity to taste fresh, local produce grown across the street. On any given day, a student might be munching on cucumbers at the salad bar, or squash in a stir fry.
McCarty, who is on the 40-meal plan, enjoyed her first tastes of her labor with a mozzarella and tomato salad at last Tuesday’s farmer’s market in front of Alliot.
“It was cool being like: ‘Oh, these are my tomatoes. I planted them, pruned the plant, and harvested them,” McCarty said.
“I mainly work down [on the farm] because I think it’s important to have a connection to where our food comes from,” McCarty said. “Sodexo – in my mind – is another way of getting people to know that their food can come from across the street.”
According to Kristyn Achilich, Academic Program Coordinator for the Organic Garden and Permaculture Site, the farm has sourced over 300 pounds of produce to Sodexo in three sellings to date. The farm produces about 2,000 pounds of produce a year.
Given how many students visit Alliot daily — 1122 students are on the unlimited meal plan — it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint for students which of the produce they’re consuming is a result of their classmates’ work.
Some of the produce that the farm has sourced to Sodexo includes tomatoes, squashes, garlic, basil, and decorative mini-pumpkins. Achilich said that she is trying to figure out what other crops Sodexo wants.
Brian Roper, General Manager of Sodexo, said he and his staff have been taking everything that the farm doesn’t sell at the weekly farmer’s markets.
“We want to produce enough that our food is visible and that students are seeing it,” Achilich said. “It pushes us in a different way.”
At this point, however, the contribution is small.
Students, who are frequent visitors to the salad bar, were recently treated to trays of sliced tomato and basil, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roper said he and his staff used 18 pounds of tomatoes from the farm to fill out the trays.
“I wish there was more of it,” Roper said, explaining that his staff goes through about 500 pounds of produce daily. “It’s kind of like a teaser where there isn’t enough of it to do a salad bar or even one station.” “They’re proud of it, which they should be – [but] it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we normally do.”
There were many obstacles that Achilich and Heather Lynch, Director of Sustainability, had to overcome to source produce to Sodexo.
The Food Modernization Act, which aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, serves as a barrier for food companies like Sodexo to be able to source from a random farm. Companies have to make sure farms practice or follow a code that there is a safe way to wash and to handle the food, Lynch said.
The goal really started to come to fruition when Erin Buckley, ’17, worked under the supervision of Achilich and designed the farm’s washing station, found on the garden, to accommodate all of Sodexo’s produce harvesting procedures.
“If it wasn’t for [students], we wouldn’t have this sourcing happening,” Lynch said.
Although Achilich and Lynch said they are ecstatic that the farm can finally source produce to Sodexo, they acknowledge that the farm’s value lies mainly in the classroom for students to learn about different food systems and sustainable agriculture techniques.
“Through my work at the garden, I’ve learned that you just have to find people willing to work with you and who have the same goals as you,” McCarty said. “Brian (Roper) really cared and was really excited about sourcing us.”