Sustainable Student Farm adapts to COVID-19 challenges


Ryan Ash

Junior Bob Rogge harvests tomatoes at the Student Sustainable Farm on Monday afternoon.

By Rohit Jammu, Assistant Features Editor

The Sustainable Student Farm, or SSF, is a small academic farm where University students can learn about growing fresh food. The farm grows a large variety of vegetables and fruit using organic methods and supplies a large amount of food to people in the Champaign-Urbana area, including University students. With COVID-19 preventing the farm from in-person sales, it has moved to an online market.

Hannah Koonce, graduate student in ACES, works with SSF. The Daily Illini interviewed her about being an employee and how COVID-19 has affected her workplace. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

DI: What is SSF about?

HK: The Sustainable Student Farm is a (10-acre) educational farm located south of the Arboretum. Students of the U of I can come to study an array of agricultural practices and vegetables we grow using organic practices. It’s a space for hands-on, practical learning.

 DI: How does SSF’s hiring process work?

HK: This summer I was a full-time worker, and have worked at SSF for a little over a year as a student worker. We usually start hiring mid-April for summer and the beginning of fall semester. Aside from that, we have volunteers coming in and out — we’re always grateful for more help.

DI: How has COVID-19 affected production and your market?

HK: Before the pandemic hit, we’d set up shop every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of the (Illini) Union. About 90% of what we produce we sell to the dining services on campus. But, due to COVID-19, we moved to an online setting. All orders (come) in only on Tuesday. We (open) up the market at around 7 a.m. until (we) run out of stock or until Wednesday at 7 a.m. After we’re done packing your order, you can pick it up at the drive-thru at the SSF on Thursdays from (noon) to 5 p.m.

DI: How has COVID-19 generally affected your projects with the U of I dining hall and the pilot plant?

HK: COVID-19 really slowed down a lot of our processing. We still have business with the pilot plant, and we are still delivering thousands of pounds of tomatoes to them to process. However, because of the pandemic, they are unfortunately short-staffed, so we have to deliver significantly larger amounts at the same time. The dining halls haven’t really seen many orders for us to get ready for them. I’m assuming they slowed down, but I’m sure that once the semester starts, we will be delivering more to the dining hall itself.

DI: Does SSF plan to change things up when classes resume on Aug. 24? If yes, how?

HK: I don’t think a lot will change. We will still have the online market and the contactless pickup. We wear masks and practice social distancing as much as possible. We have discussed implementing another online pickup location just so students can have the chance to get fresh produce if they don’t have a way to get to the farm.

DI: What do you love about working with SSF?

HK: I love the atmosphere. It’s almost relaxing to go to work because you’re outside enjoying the sunshine and you have good company. I’ve made a lot of friends working at SSF and I’ve created a lot of memories as well. It’s a great place to work to learn about sustainability and how to grow your own food.

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