Tucked behind the Education Building sits the USF Community Garden, where squash, rhubarb, and many other natural favorites are nurtured for eventual consumption by the USF community. The responsibility of caring and harvesting the produce rests on students who are part of the Community Outreach class within the Urban Agriculture Department. The students have a vested interest in the vegetables’ upbringing, since they cook the meals that are showcased at the USF Farm Stand on Gleeson Plaza.
The Farm Stand takes place every month and all of the meals are made available free of charge (although donations are appreciated). Some dishes the class has prepared in the past include: chocolate spaghetti squash, couscous with onion sauce, and beet salad. The only requirement for every meal is that it must feature something from the community garden, but on an ideal plate, the dominant ingredient is a piece of produce that was gardened by the students.
Sav Orosco, a sophomore business major, says the Community Outreach class, which fulfills her Service Learning core, provides a real opportunity for contributing to the community, and has taught her how to cook healthily. “We hold the Farm Stand and a community dinner at St. Cyprian’s [Episcopal] Church and [the class] is a nice breather from the rigorous courses of my major. One of my favorite things I’m learning in class is how to make jams and pies from scratch.”
The professor of the class, Rachel Brand Lee, says learning how to make jams and pickling foods is a way to make use of the excessive produce one might harvest or accidentally buy. Lee said this part of learning smart cooking techniques is directly related to one of the class’s main goals: “Make them feel empowered to cook and grow their own food.”
Professor David Silver, who coordinates the Urban Agriculture minor and used to teach the Community Outreach class, echoed Lee’s sentiments. “I think notions of growing and cooking your own food is really important. Really getting down to the roots of what food is all about,” said Silver. He also hopes students notice the importance of working together on such an important project while doing it under a different classroom teaching style. “In most classes, students work individually to finish a paper, or do a midterm. In this class they work collectively and collaboratively. There is no way the Farm Stand could exist if they are not working together,” said Silver.
Sophomore and member of the Community Outreach class, Bella Swanson, said that collective work and collaboration are an integral part of the planning process of putting on the Farm Stand. “In our class periods we’ll decide who is going to make a main course, who is going to make a side dish, who is in charge of the salad, and then collectively we decide what would be best to make from what’s growing in the garden,” said Swanson.
Lee said that one of the Farm Stand’s main goals is to raise awareness of the USF Community Garden. “A lot of people have never even seen it or know that it exists. So we want everyone to know what we grow there, and that it’s on campus, and that you can go and walk around in this beautiful space,” said Lee. The Farm Stand also wants to motivate people to buy from other farm-to-table concept markets. “These local seasonal foods that are so good for your health can be cooked so easily, so that’s why we look to promote the use of local organic seasonal vegetables,” said Lee.
Silver elaborated on the goal of raising the profile of the produce that comes from spaces like USF’s Community Garden. “We hope the students educate and share their enthusiasm for real food with other people who maybe didn’t know that lunch could constitute anything except Dorito chips. It’s nutritious food, it’s affordable, in our case, it’s free.”
Photo courtesy of USF Community Garden