By Sarah Hill
A popular campus event is just one tool Baylor is using to address issues of food insecurity among students in a direct way. Twice a year, in the fall and spring semesters, the Baylor Free Farmers Market distributes tens of thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to as many as 1,500 students.
The first Baylor Free Farmers Market was held in November 2016, and the eighth market was held earlier this month on Fountain Mall on Nov. 7 –– hosted by Student Success Initiatives (SSI) in the Paul L. Foster Success Center. The overall goal of SSI is to positively impact the success of Baylor students by addressing their social, emotional, vocational, spiritual and academic needs.
Free Farmers Markets are open to all Baylor students who can show a current Baylor ID. Once in line, students are able to choose from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost.
Sarah Madsen, a third-year doctoral student in Baylor’s higher education studies and leadership program, helps to coordinate free food events such as the farmers market, and also works with the Hunger Free Baylor Committee.
Despite some people’s image of Baylor students being financially secure and easily able to afford meals, Madsen said SSI combats real issues of food insecurity on campus.
“Food insecurity can take on a couple of forms. You can be chronically food insecure, be dealing with the cost of living and cost of tuition month-to-month, and not have enough money for sufficiently nutritious food,” she said. “You could also be sporadically food insecure with events like an unexpected doctor’s bill.”
One challenge, Madsen said, is that students who are in the types of situations that make them food insecure may not always feel comfortable confirming their condition or asking for help.
“Big events such as the Baylor Free Farmers Market help to destigmatize coming to get free food on campus or using campus resources,” she said.
“We consistently have about 1,500 students come out for the farmers market,” Madsen said, proving there is a need for programs such as this on campus. “We realized that we hadn’t turned inward –– students are experiencing the same thing as the homeless people we’re helping. A lot of times people think hunger only affects K-12 students, so they have free lunch programs and things like that. But there was not much attention given to students at private universities.”
Another weapon that the Paul L. Foster Success Center’s Student Success Initiatives has to combat campus food insecurity is The Store, a free student food pantry in the Sid Richardson Building. Students fill out a brief form, and then are able to select the food items they need twice a month.“The Store is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Students can always go in there to get food items,” Madsen said. “We partner with Waco’s Family of Faith Worship Center, and we get food from Central Texas Food Bank –– places like HEB or Whole Foods donate, and that provides food to both the pantry and farmers market.”
Madsen said that SSI is looking to expand its knowledge base and strengthen its impact on relieving food insecurity.
“Having a food pantry at Baylor is not going to solve food insecurity,” she said. “We are trying to learn more and more about students’ experiences to address macro-level issues. It is a Baylor problem, but really, higher education across the board and America in general has high living prices, including high tuition prices.”
Sarah Hill is a senior professional writing and rhetoric major at Baylor.
Photos courtesy of Baylor Marketing & Communications