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Farmers Club connects community with produce, important messages

Brandeis has huge diversity of clubs on campus: sports clubs, arts clubs, political clubs, cultural clubs and social justice clubs, among others. However, one club that might not be as well known as BAASA, Girl Up or Tron is the Farmers Club. And it definitely should not be overlooked.

Farmers Club has been functioning for two years and hopes to spread awareness about food justice and sustainability, while also maintaining its 1,500 square foot rooftop garden.

“Farmers Club grows everything from strawberries to rosemary, kale, ground cherries, tomatoes, cantaloupe and eggplant,” said president of Farmers Club Allison Marill ’17. The garden is located on the roof of Gerstenzang but will be closed for the winter. Planting and farming hours will resume in mid-April, Marill added.

Although members love to get their hands dirty in the soil, Farmers Club does much more than grow vegetables in the garden. After the club harvests its produce, the club sells its products to stimulate the local economy and promote healthier, more sustainable eating. The club sells its produce through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and to community food banks, in addition to its sales in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC), at farmers’ markets and to Sodexo.

Farmers Club organizes farmers’ markets each semester. The club teams up with local vendors to sell their own produce and products, while Brandeis singing groups contribute the entertainment. These markets typically take place in front of Spingold Theater and in the parking lot of Gosman Athletic Center. Commonwealth Coffee, Topshelf Cookies, Harriet’s Bakery, Lyndigo Spice, Bread Obsession, the Apothekers and Brandeis Pottery Club are just a few of the vendors that sell products at the club’s farmers’ markets. The club plans to have its next market at the end of April. Farmers Club also sets up farm stands in the SCC every week in the fall semester to sell homegrown fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, the club sells its herbs to Sodexo, which incorporates the herbs into daily meals for students in Sherman Dining Hall.

Farmers Club also sells its fresh produce through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Through CSA, “Community members buy a share of the farm. Community members pay a fee for the growing season and receive a bag of produce each week. This is a guaranteed revenue source for the farm and members get a different variety of produce each week,” Marill explained.

The club has donated to five locations in Waltham: Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Boston, Grandma’s Pantry of the Christ Church Episcopal, Skinny Wheels Meals, Waltham Group Hunger and Homelessness Be Our Guest Programs to the Community Day Center of Waltham and the Boston Area Gleaners. Farmers Club additionally joined forces with Brandeis Waltham Group for a “make-your-own-salad” workshop at the Prospect Hill Community Center. The two clubs brought middle school students to the garden and prepared salads with fresh ingredients from the garden.

On campus, the club hosts FARMal every year in celebration of the fall harvest. The event features homemade food, contra dancing, pumpkin decorating and live music. Eighty people attended last semester’s FARMal.

“Last fall, the Farmers Board cooked a vegetarian dinner of salad, spaghetti and cornbread, and the year before, we had Nutella crepes. We used vegetables from the farm in our salad and picked ground cherries for everyone to try,” Marill said.

Marill came up with FARMal in the fall of 2015. “I remembered all the fun fall activities that I did as a kid—picking for pumpkins, attending a fall party at my elementary school, dressing up for Halloween—and I wanted to have an event that would take these elements, celebrate the fall season and engage students with the farm,” explained Marill. “FARMal is now a tradition, and I am excited to see it grow.”

Farmers Club started Picnics with a Purpose in the fall of 2015 as well. The club put out blankets on the roof of Gerstenzang, enjoyed fresh vegetables from the garden and talked about the use of antibiotics in big agriculture, according to Marill. Farmers Club also plans to bring a guest speaker to Brandeis in the fall.

The premier event this semester is called PlantFest, the club’s yearly planting festival in April. This event intends to celebrate spring and will include planting, eating and music.

Looking forward, Farmers Club is eager to start using its miniature greenhouse, which is located next to the rooftop garden. The club constructed the structure last fall, but has yet to grow anything in it. Come March when it is not too cold, the club hopes to grow microgreens and seedlings in the new greenhouse.

Personally, Marill hopes to increase the club’s presence on campus, as several students still have not seen the farm. “Discussions about food justice and sustainability are important, but we hope that an opportunity for members to get their hands dirty will make these topics more tangible and meaningful. I will be sad to say goodbye, but I am also excited to see the farm grow under the next sustainability leaders,” Marill commented.

Marill grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, and did not have much experience with gardening before arriving at Brandeis. However, she co-founded the rooftop farm. The idea sprouted in Prof. Laura Goldin’s Greening the Ivory Tower environmental studies class. “As our sustainability project, my group wanted to make a green roof on campus as it has many environmental and economic benefits. After reading Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and learning about sustainable agriculture in class, my group decided to transform our project idea into a rooftop farm,” said Marill. Her group then got in touch with Eben Holderness ’18, who has previous experience with farming and is now the club’s farm manager.

In the end, Farmers Club is all about bringing community members together, whether it be through FARMal, programs with Waltham Group or weekly farming hours. The club makes healthy and sustainable eating fun with homemade treats, music from Brandeis groups, dancing, open discussions and planting. Farmers Club cannot wait to start planting again in the spring, and welcomes any and all to join.

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