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Local produce comes to campus

Despite a rising awareness of organic foods, students living on campus often find the dormitory vending machine more convenient.

This November, Sweetwater Farms is partnering with USF to bring organic fruits and vegetables from the farm to the university. 

Instead of traveling to the 6-acre community garden in Town ‘n’ Country to pick the produce themselves, student members will now be able to pick up shipments from the Botanical Gardens on campus.

Jane Applegate, Sweetwater Farms’ secretary, said the most important part of the new drop-off location on campus is that it offers a higher level of convenience for students who want to support the farm.

“People won’t have to drive all the way across town if they want good vegetables,” Applegate said. 

Sweetwater Farms claims traditional farming yields better produce than conventional, non-organic methods. Under federal regulations, organic farmers may not apply pesticides to the food or use synthetic fertilizer. 

Sweetwater Farms’ commitment to avoiding pesticides encourages students to think about healthy eating, Applegate said.

“Relying on petroleum-based chemicals is obviously not sustainable from an oil-use perspective,” said Shawn Landry, an associate research professor and Sweetwater Farms board member. “The use of chemicals has just been shown time and time again to potentially have detrimental effects to human health.”

Because crop rotation depends on soil and weather, produce changes seasonally, such as eggplants, which grow in November, and carrots, which grow in April.

Landry said the partnership would hopefully bring in resources and student volunteers for Sweetwater’s education programs. 

“We’re not just about growing organic produce and providing it to shareholders and through our markets,” he said. “We’re really about building community and educating the community and the next generation of farmers.” 

Landry said the non-profit farm uses its proceeds primarily for educational programs in the community. 

Landry also said the quality of the food is something students cannot find close to campus.

“There’s something about carrots that are grown at Sweetwater that is just out of this world,” he said. “It’s an extremely noticeable difference, in just the taste of the sweetness of it.” 

Rick Martinez, founder and interim executive director of Sweetwater Farms, is optimistic about the benefits the partnership can bring to students’ health and said he hopes more students will get involved in Sweetwater Farms’ community engagement.

“The USF community represents an academic and forward-thinking community,” Martinez said. “It would be great for them to reach out and support us.”