Connecting Students and Faculty to Local Farmers

Last spring, Washington University’s Office of Sustainability and Human Resources Department partnered to offer a second pick up location for a community supported agriculture (CSA) program provided by Local Farmer CSA. The pick up at the West Campus parking garage is an option that builds on a very successful model that has been operational at the School of Medicine campus since 2010. Faculty, staff, and students are invited to become members to receive a bi-weekly Crop Box filled with locally grown vegetables, meats, cheeses, and other goods. The CSA program provides members with a convenient way to eat fresh, seasonal food and support the local economy.

The CSA program also has great benefits for the farms involved. Outside of a CSA program, the demand for products can fluctuate week to week due to weather and a variety of other factors. Local Farmer CSA grants weekly stability in customers for the farms.

Crop box pick-ups occur on Wednesdays on the WashU West Campus in Clayton from 4p to 6p or on Thursday at the School of Medicine Farmers Market from 10a – 2p. Local Farmer CSA provides added flexibility, allowing subscribers to switch out products they are not interested in or don’t know how to use in meals. The subscriber also has the ability to opt out for a week or put their order on hold if they know they are going to be out of town. On pick up days, Dave Smith, the manager of Local Farmer CSA is on site to answer any questions about where the week’s food is from, how it is grown, and tips on how to use it in recipes.

Dave Smith, the manager of Local Farmer CSA, hasn’t always worked with local food. He started his career as a personal trainer before transitioning into retail grocery management. While working in the grocery industry, he became interested in the local, organic produce section, which led him to become the CSA’s manager in 2012. Beyond its sustainability and health benefits, Dave enjoys helping consumers buy locally, which supports small farms and businesses, and supports the St. Louis regional economy instead of large corporations.

One example of these small businesses is Liberty Farm Hydroponics in Waterloo, Illinois, only 30 miles from WashU. This small-scale tomato farm was started by Ray Munne in 2015 when he was inspired to give people the opportunity to eat healthier and know where their food comes from and how it was grown. Though his greenhouse is relatively small, Ray uses techniques such as drip irrigation and reverse osmosis, and is able to bring more than 90% of his crop to market, a remarkable feat for reducing food waste. Like Farmer Dave, Ray strongly believes in the importance of the trust between consumers and farmers that small scale farming provides.

The CSA program is a unique opportunity for students and faculty alike to connect with their food and the farmers who produce it, all while supporting a strong local economy and reducing their environmental footprints. Both the Office of Sustainability and Farmer Dave hope to expand the program to the Danforth Campus to make it more accessible to undergraduates and others.

The benefits and savings of local farming get passed directly to members at WashU, and students and faculty have been loving their crop boxes. Some recent praise for the Crop Boxes:

“I like how Dave offers options to buy and add-on to the box, as well. He always seems to be in a good mood – he must love what he does!”

“I recommend this program to everyone! Even if you are only cooking for one, Farmer Dave usually has a la carte items that you can purchase in the quantity you need. I have also been very impressed with the quality of the food. Dave won’t sell sub-par produce – he’ll either swap an item out with something in season or remove the item from your bill.”

“I’ve already found I eat a lot healthier. I used to get a bag of hot Cheetos for a snack, but now I cook all of my food. Vegetables are much more filling and satisfying than a bag of chips. Also, they cost less!”

Click here for more info about signing up!

This article was written by our Food Student Associates Camille Rieber and Hannah Schanzer.