Get Fresh makes produce available for students at ARC

By Kaitlin Binuya, Contributing writer

Established to increase the availability of fresh produce on campus, Get Fresh, located at the ARC, provides easy access for students, faculty and staff to purchase healthy items without having to leave campus.

The new seasonal food program, sponsored by Meijer, collaborated with Student Wellness and McKinley Health to supply students with a reusable tote full of fruits and vegetables.

The totes are available for participants to pick up every Tuesday afternoon from 1-4 p.m. in the ARC Instructional Kitchen. Alana Harris, assistant director of Student Wellness, takes advantage of this opportunity herself.

Harris said the items are local, seasonal and usually on sale. Last week, the produce bag included: zucchini, apples, parsley, lemon, garlic cloves and red peppers. Groceries, if not picked up during the Tuesday time slot, are donated to the Champaign Food Pantry.

Along with the fresh produce items, participants receive recipe guides which incorporate each week’s food items into a nutritious meal. Educational pamphlets on seasonal food items are also included in the tote.

“My favorite part is that I don’t have to think about what I want. (The program) has also led me to try different things. This week I received eggplant in my bag, and I’m excited to try it,” said Mark Bell, graduate student at the University.

Students are encouraged to expand their traditional diets and try a range of more diverse foods they wouldn’t typically pick out themselves. Bell said the program also helps indecisive people who may spend excessive amounts of time at the grocery store each week.

The recipe guides help students get creative with how they prepare their food items as well. Samantha Gerry, program assistant at Student Wellness, said her mission was to find these complementary recipes that also still sounded appealing.

“My goal was to help patrons in the program utilize their fresh produce to make delicious and healthy meals,” Gerry said.  

Another important feature of the program is its cost. The six-week program runs from Sept. 19-Oct. 24 and is $50 for members. Registration ended Sept. 12. Gerry considers affordability to be the main benefit of the program. 

“Many people, especially those who are food insecure or in food deserts, find it difficult to purchase healthy food on a budget,” Gerry said. “The program works to combat this problem.”

Bell confirmed that the cost of the program played a large role in his participation as well. With pickup at the ARC, Get Fresh is convenient for students who pick up their bags in between or after class.

“I was interested in this program because it seemed like a low cost way to get produce without having to go to the store,” Bell said.

This semester is the first season for Get Fresh on campus. The program mainly focuses on the food and nutrition education aspect for members rather than yielding a profit, as it’s still trying to establish its name on campus.

This program functions as cost recovery. It is our goal to break even and provide students with a positive learning experience,” Harris said.

Currently, there are 25 people registered for the program. All but three of those registered are students. Since this is the first semester for Get Fresh, Harris said the department will do an evaluation at the end of the six weeks, and if it is well-received, it will run again.  

Gerry, Harris and those involved with the program hope to run it again in the future and perhaps even partner with any local farms for fresh produce.

I definitely see Get Fresh as a successful program because it provides fresh and affordable food to those who do not have an easy time accessing them,” Gerry said.

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