On-Grounds Farmers Market Reaps Student Customers

September 01, 2008

Sept. 1, 2008 —Vendors from Charlottesville's famous City Market set up shop on Grounds at the University of Virginia Monday, sparking students' interest in all things organic and locally-grown, from jalapeno hummus to fresh flowers.

Organized by members of the Student Council's Environmental Sustainability Committee, the market brought seven vendors from the City Market, an open-air bazaar where local farmers sell produce, cheeses, baked goods, flowers and handicrafts on Saturday mornings in downtown Charlottesville.

"I think it's great," Laura Bell, 19, of Pennington Gap said of the on-Grounds market. Bell wanted "healthy alternatives, instead of processed food and I like to support local farmers. I wish we could do this more often."

Wendy Harrison, a U.Va. graduate who operates the Farm at Red Hill with her husband, is a regular vendor at the City Market. She thought the Newcomb Plaza venture would be a good way to reach more customers.

"We already have many students that come to the market but I thought this would be a good way to meet some others," she said. "When I was a student here, I never left Grounds for the first two years."
 
Harrison said she did good business at the Newcomb Plaza market while promoting the City Market.

"A lot of the students have never heard of the City Market," she said. "If the people are here, then I will come here. There are more than enough customers. The problem is there are not enough farmers to fill all the markets."

"A lot of kids with their own kitchens love the fresh food," said third-year student Michael Guido of San Antonio, Texas, who bought cherry tomatoes to use on salads. "This is cheaper and more natural."

Catherine Chambers, a fourth-year student majoring in politics with a history minor, sees it from both sides. She interns for Roundabout Farm in Keswick, which was started by alumni Megan and Rob Weary. When Chambers graduates from U.Va., she plans to attend culinary school.

"I wanted to do something that was food-related," Chambers said of her internship. "It makes more sense for me to work where everything starts."

Business was brisk Monday as students between classes lined up for tomatoes, peppers, onions and flowers. Chambers said the farmers who produced the food can also advise students on the best preparation methods.

Megan Weary said there is already student interest in locally grown food. Some subscribe to Roundabout's Community Supported Agriculture program, in which students receive a share of the harvest for subscribing and working on the farm. "We get students who just show up because they want to volunteer," Weary said.

She and her husband have maintained their ties with the University, hosting class groups that tour the farm and providing vegetables to the International Residential College and the Darden School of Business.

"We believe that U.Va. is a leader and we are thrilled to have it show leadership with [the farmers market]," she said.

Students sampled cheddar spread offered by Linda Weaver of Simply Cheddar in Waynesboro and Harrison's salsas and hummus spreads.

There were also fresh doughnuts made with organic flour and local cider, cooked in soy oil that was then used a fuel. The longest line stretched form an organic bagel stand, where vendors made hot grilled sandwiches for lunch.

"It's exciting to go to class and get your fruits and vegetables at the same time," third-year student Stephanie Paredes of Arlington said. She enjoyed the convenience of having the market on Grounds; getting to the City Market is hard because she doesn't have a car, she said.

Market organizers said last week the market was intended as a one-time event, designed to introduce students to the City Market and encourage them to go there on Saturday mornings to purchase local foods. But several vendors and students expressed an interest in making it a more regular event.