With an abundance of restaurants and a shortage of grocery stores around UT’s campus, it is difficult for students to find convenient healthy food options. UT Farm Stand is working to change that.
UT Farm Stand is a monthly market that brings fresh produce to the 40 Acres from various local farms around Austin.
Mijal Grosman, UT Farm Stand materials coordinator and a geography senior, said the idea for UT Farm Stand came from conversations about how students don’t have easy access to local organic food. With the help of the Division of Housing and Food Services, the group polled students to gauge their interest in bringing a farmers’ market-type event to campus.
“A lot of people expressed interest but also assumed that organic food was either too expensive or difficult to get,” Grosman said. “Those misconceptions are what really pushed us to start developing the idea more that became UT Farm Stand.”
Neil Kaufman, DHFS sustainability coordinator and UT Farm Stand staff advisor, said the event is not quite a farmers’ market. Instead of having farmers present to sell their products, the stand brings in student volunteers to serve as the market’s vendors.
UT Farm Stand held its first event at the end of February in the East Mall on campus, and Kaufman said the turnout was great.
“The first event totally blew away our expectations,” Kaufman said. “We had a line of about 50 people the whole time waiting for an opportunity to buy our produce. While we don’t want people having to wait in a long line at future events, we were excited that the folks in the line were enthusiastic and happy enough to wait for our produce.”
Kaufman said UT Farm Stand is more of an educational experience than a business.
“For us, it’s not just about doing the work,” Kaufman said. “We train our volunteers to educate them about the vendors and why buying local food is important so they can share that information with our patrons. Our main intention is to have customers walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for buying local produce.”
Chemistry sophomore Joshua McCauley said his first UT Farm Stand experience was both fun and practical.
“It was a really beautiful event, and everything was priced really well,” McCauley said. “The only disappointing part was the long line, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience for me, and hopefully they’ll have that problem solved by the next event.”
While the farm stand wants to distinguish itself from other produce services on campus like UT Microfarm and Farm to Work, it does not consider the others to be competition.
“What we do differently is offer an aggregation of different farmers from around Austin,” Kaufman said. “We may only hold one event per month currently, but we offer a bit more variety at the events. That being said, we are very encouraging of other events like ours because we are all advocating for the same thing. We even include Microfarm as one of the vendors at our events.”
While the stand might expand to include meat and dairy products or cooking demonstrations, Grosman said the project’s primary goal is to become a weekly event.
“I would love to see Farm Stand become something students can rely on for healthy groceries on a weekly basis,” Grosman said. “I want them to be able to opt out of buying conventional food or food from large companies that don’t support the local economy if they desire.”