Campus farmers’ market not so local
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 22:09
Twenty-six years ago, Mark Barczewski began selling tomatoes on the side of the road to make diaper money for his newborn son. Passersby would drop money in an old cigar box, grab a few tomatoes and be on their way. At the time, Barczewski was working at the DuPont Factory by day, and at night, he would head over to his nearby farm stand to collect that day’s diaper money.
Nineteen years later, after several episodes of theft, in which not only tomatoes but entire crates were stolen, Barczewski quit corporate America and expanded his tomato stand into a sizable produce and flower stand.
Just down the road, the university’s Dining Services entered the produce business and opened the university’s first farmers’ market in Mentor’s Circle in 2010.
At the last market of the 2013 season on Sept. 12, junior Kyra Isaacs perused the baskets of fruits, vegetables and bread.
“To me, a farmers’ market is somewhere I can buy fresh, local veggies at a low price,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said she, like several students at the market, was unsatisfied with the university’s farmers’ market, citing its lack of variety as the main source of dissatisfaction. In early September, the fruits and vegetables in season include artichokes, basil, beans, cucumbers, eggplants, garlic, okra, bell peppers, grapes, apples, tomatoes, summer squash and figs.
The market offers a small variety of foods, some of which are shipped from North Carolina and none of which are advertised as organic or advertised as grown without harmful chemicals and practices. The farmers’ market features four tents and stands scattered with a few zucchinis, onions and large cucumbers and UDairy’s creamery truck, the Moo Mobile.
The market in Mentor’s Circle draws foods from 21 different farms, four of which are located in Delaware. Ed Kee, secretary of the Department of Agriculture in Delaware, said the state is home to around 2,500 farms, covering about 39 percent of the state’s land. Additionally, Kee reports, “Delaware ranks #1 nationally in the value of agricultural products sold per farm at $425,387.” While there are numerous farms in the state, 17 of the farms represented at this market are located in New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina.
Barczewski’s stand operates on family land inherited from his father. He said he buys most food from the Oxford Produce Auction, which takes place 25 minutes from his stand, and from Amish produce stands.
“What I do is simple, and it brings people something good,” Barczewski said. “It sells itself.”
Barczewski explained that for many Amish farmers to receive organic certification, they would have to pay a fee, resulting in higher prices for the produce, Barczewski said. If a season yields a bad crop, he said the extra expense could devastate a farmer’s business and livelihood.
“I can’t always buy organic or chemical-free vegetables, but I also don’t advertise it that way if it isn’t,” he said.
The university’s farmers’ market is operated by three Dining Services employees, who also work in some of the 16 locations where Dining Services provides food on campus.
An employee working at the market’s register said “the produce is not directly sourced from the farmers,” and there was not much at the market that was organic or grown without chemicals.
The market, which just completed its fourth year, opened on June 13, meaning the market was open three times during the fall semester.
Conversely, Barczewski’s farm stand is open from two weeks before Mother’s Day until the weekend after Halloween.
“I could still sell good produce, but when it gets late and into November people stop coming because they think there won’t be anything,” Barczewski said.
People come in August asking for strawberries, Barczewski said, but strawberries are in season late in the spring and in early summer. He said he knows he could sell strawberries from California and charge more for them, but because he sells what is in season locally, August strawberries are not included at his stand.
Rather than send money to California for strawberries, Barczewski would rather preserve fossil fuels and keep the money local and in the community.
Although it is a seasonal job, Barczewski said he works day and night to take care of his flowers and produce, which require intense manual labor to water and look after. He said the only things that require little work are the goats, which are “easy,” and the chickens, which are “stupid.”
“Make sure you get this down,” Barczewski said. “Nobody makes it in produce who is lazy.”