Sustainable Student Farm brings fresh produce to the Quad

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By Isabella Jackson

The crunch of cucumbers, the sweet aroma of strawberries and the refreshing scent of basil leaves: This isn’t the farmstand near home. Students can now purchase homegrown produce without leaving campus.

Every Thursday from May to November, the Sustainable Student Farm sells the produce grown on the farm at a stand on Anniversary Plaza from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The produce that is available changes depending on the time of year, but there is always a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Matthew Turino, a visiting research specialist in agriculture, currently manages the SSF, which both grows the produce and staffs the stand.

He said this week, there will be tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberries, cilantro, green beans, potatoes and much more at the stand.

Turino said the SSF began in 2009 and has been selling produce on the Quad since 2010. The organization works to provide healthy, local food for campus, through both the farm stand on the Quad and University Dining Services.

The farm is staffed by student volunteers who are able to gain hands-on experience with organic vegetable production. The farm also serves as a space for research in organic production methods and a resource for regional farmers.

According to the SSF website, although the farm, located near the intersection of Lincoln and Windsor Roads, is not a USDA certified organic farm, organic farming methods such as compost utilization and cover crop rotations are used every year.

Students of all academic focuses and backgrounds work together at the farm to provide produce for campus.

Nicholas Lien, senior in Engineering, said that when he first heard about the farm, he was worried that he would not be much help as a volunteer because he had little prior knowledge of horticulture or organic farming.

But on his first day last September, he was put to work harvesting vegetables, pulling weeds and washing carrots that were to be sold at the market the next week.

“The folks who work at the farm are grateful for all of the volunteer help that comes their way; they are very friendly and are always willing to explain any task that is not clear,” Lien wrote in an email.

After his first shift, Lien said he has tried to volunteer at least twice each week. He said volunteering at the SSF has not only taught him about agriculture, but also helped break up his daily schedule of classes and meet new people.

Turino said that the farm is open to volunteers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and larger groups can sign up to volunteer on the weekend. Students can sign up online at Thefarm.illinois.edu.

Dementro Powell, assistant director of student programs and activities, explained that the Illini Union staff supports the SSF because they believe it positively benefits the campus community.

“The Student Sustainability Farm … is an excellent way to raise awareness in the University community as well as provide homegrown nutritional produce to not only promote sustainability, but healthy lifestyle options,” Powell wrote in an email.

Lien also explained that the farm and the produce stand bring people closer to the community and the area of the country that they live in.

“When students enjoy a meal at a dining hall on campus, consume a salad, a tomato sauce or any dish prepared with SSF produce, I imagine that they might feel satisfied and comforted to know that that food was grown responsibly by local folks and fellow students, not mystery farmers from thousands of miles away.”

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Sustainable Student Farm as the Student Sustainability Farm. The Daily Illini regrets the error.