by Katie Groves and Annie Huntington
The perfect Texas day cannot be ignored. It’s sunny, a light breeze brushes your hair into your face, and the general demeanor of the entire Baylor University campus is more joyful than usual. A few spikeball players are scattered across fountain mall, intensely focused on the game at hand, and you walk toward a set of tents set up on the slightly wilted lawn where a line is rapidly growing to pick up fresh produce. You’ve seen fifteen students, maybe more, already pass by with smiles on their faces as they tote a box down the sidewalk. As you slyly glance into the brown cardboard box of a passerby, you catch a glimpse of vibrant orange carrots, long and unruly, twisting into odd shapes at the ends. The orange of the carrots starkly contrasts with the bright green of the leafy greens carefully packaged next to the carrots. Possible recipes begin whirling in your mind as you patiently inch closer as each student is given their twenty pounds of free fruits and vegetables.
While the warm weather lifts your spirits, it’s hard to ignore the slight but growing ache in your stomach. It’s been nearly eighteen hours since your last full meal and even longer since that meal included something fresh and nutritious. Ramen, an inexpensive meal option, rarely fills your stomach all the way up, and the different flavoring packets aren’t really able to trick you into thinking you’re eating something new and exciting. And after you’ve consumed your fourth meal of ramen for the week, it begins to impact your overall feeling of wellness. The Free Farmer’s Market is your first opportunity to have real vegetables in weeks.
There is no shame in picking up your box of produce. You’ve noticed several other friendly faces, classmates, friends, and even a TA who are all in line and several more in the crowd walking away from the covered tables with boxes in hand. The volunteers hand you food with a kind smile.
“Have a phenomenal day. Hope you enjoy it!”
And with that, you realize that they are just as enthused to give this box to you as you are to receive it. Even with twenty extra pounds of food in your arms, the box is just awkwardly large enough for you to have to stop and redistribute the weight every few minutes, and yet you walk lighter back to your apartment, knowing that you’ll have a full meal that night and can let the ramen sit on the shelf.
Opening the box on the counter, you begin to unload the wild-looking carrots with a revived sense of elation. The six lightly colored white-gold onions have flaky skin that crunches as you lift them from the box, and when the skin breaks off and drifts down to the floor, you sigh. Your roommate enters the room, saying, “We could make a bloomin’ onion out of that!”
“You’re more than welcome to try that yourself, but I cannot cut an onion without crying,” you respond, knowing full well they will take you up on your offer.
When you reach the fifteen baby golden potatoes randomly scattered throughout the box, you stop. You know exactly what to do with the first few. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and coat a pan in cooking spray, you begin thinly slicing your potatoes with a knife, knowing how much easier and uniform the potato chip process must be with an industrial mandoline. Covered in olive oil, salt, garlic power, onion powder, and paprika, all provided by your roommate’s dwindling assortment of the most basic spices, you pop the soon-to-be chips in the oven to cook.
When they’re done and you pull them out of the oven, you quickly drop them down on the stovetop, while the heat of the pan permeates through your oven mitt. The smell of bagged, greasy chips is incomparable to these fresh, hot, perfectly seasoned ones. Not only are these homemade potato chips better tasting than their brightly bagged, deep-fried counterparts, but they are significantly healthier, too. It’s a relief to be able to feed yourself a healthy snack, as well as completely rewarding, knowing you’ve made them yourself.
Even at a school as stereotypically affluent as Baylor, hypothetical stories such as this one aren’t that far from the truth. A free food resource such as the Free Farmer’s Market, which is held biannually, can sustain a lower-income student with fresh produce for weeks after the event. Unlike other food-bank resources on campus, the Baylor Free Farmer’s Market focuses on providing students with fresh fruits and vegetables, which tend to be less accessible for lower-income students. This popular event combines much-needed food distribution with efforts to raise awareness about hunger, nutrition, wellness, food insecurity, and other related issues.
For the Baylor Free Farmer’s Markets, food is provided as the result of a partnership between Baylor University and the Central Texas Food Bank, located in Austin, Texas. Grocery stores donate to the Food Bank, and it is then delivered to Reverend Ruben Andrade Jr., Pastor of the Family of Faith Worship Center in Waco, who helps coordinate deliveries to the University. Previous Free Farmer’s Markets have served nearly 2,000 students with over 30,000 pounds of food distributed at each event.
The first Baylor Free Farmer’s Market was hosted back in the fall semester of 2016, and has continued each semester since, with the exception of spring 2020, due to the closing of Baylor’s campus at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This adds up to a total of eight Free Farmer’s Markets since the beginning of this initiative. Despite the persistence of the pandemic, the Free Farmer’s Market was still hosted both semesters in the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021, the most recent on March 25, 2021, serving 1,093 students. Typically, students are given the autonomy to pick and choose their produce, as if they were at an actual farmer’s market. The importance of this aspect of student selection is the creation of a sense of normalcy. This fresh food, completely free to all students and community members, allows those struggling with food insecurity to have access to healthy, fresh food in a way that is inclusive and without stigma.
Former Student Government Director of Affordability, Sutton Houser, ran for his current position of Student Body President on a platform that included empowering students to fight food insecurity on our campus. According to his research during his time as Director of Affordability, he uncovered a startling statistic that redirected his focus in his policy work. Approximately 4,000 Baylor students identify as having some form of food insecurity. With a student population of 12,000 or so students, this meant one in four students was struggling in some food related way.
After a year working with Michelle Cohenour, Director of Student Success Initiatives at The Store, Baylor’s free food pantry, Houser emphasized this need to combat food insecurity in his campaign and then within his term as Student Body President because he has come to understand that “food insecurities can lead students to have to make difficult compromises.” In many ways COVID only perpetuated these compromises, and implementing the Sic Hunger Food Drive and the Student Care and Wellness Fund became an important goal for Sutton’s term as Student Body President.
“This is what a caring community looks like,” Sutton said, “seeing the needs of our fellow students and stepping up to meet them.”
Because one in four students are impacted in some way by food insecurity, the issue hits close to home. Imagine being a Community Leader in the Baylor residence halls whose role is to connect students with campus resources, and yet feeling anxious to take advantage of those very same resources.
As one of the co-authors of this article (Annie Huntington), I have to tell you that that’s exactly where I found myself. I was a CL who had already used my allotted ten swipes per week at the dining hall, my $200 per semester stipend had already been spent, and I wasn’t allowed to get another job beyond being a CL. In addition, my family was unable to give me an allowance, and I had an entire weekend ahead of me with just $4 in my bank account.
My mind wandered to the training I had received about The Store and The Fridge and the other resources available to students who need food. For some reason, I was still hesitant. I didn’t have any problem taking fresh pineapple and potatoes from the Free Farmer’s Market—so, what’s so different about using the other resources?
I found myself affected by the very stigma I was trained to help others move past. I was anxious about using the very resources I recommended that others use! So I decided that enough was enough, grabbed my backpack, and took the short walk from Penland to Sid Rich. Down the stairs, through the long fluorescent hallway, and through the door I found what I had been looking for: food. I grabbed some crunchy peanut butter, some oatmeal, and some mac and cheese. It was discrete and simple; I didn’t cross paths with anybody. And for the first time all week, I could hit the library without worrying what my dinner plans would be, because I knew there was some peanut butter oatmeal waiting for me when I got home.
At a private school like Baylor, there is this assumption that everyone is being provided for by their parents and that everyone is well off, and that is simply not the case. There is no shame in needing help or simply taking advantage of the many resources designed to help students be successful.
As Thomas Aquinas suggests, it is better to love than to be loved. So, allow your neighbors and peers the opportunity to love you by feeding you, and use the resources offered by the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty (BCHP). There is no reason for anyone to go hungry, particularly in this community. However, it can be really hard to take the first step. This is me telling you, as a current Baylor student, as a Community Leader, and as a friend: it’s okay. Go to The Store, go by The Fridge, go to the Free Farmers Market. These are for you. And not just you, but for the 141 students who used The Store in January 2021, and the 110 new students who used The Store in February 2021, making a total of 368 students who used The Store this past February. You are not alone.
This is why events such as the Baylor Free Farmer’s Market are so important—by reaching a wider range of students and faculty, more of our community is made aware of the resources available to them. This specifically helps with de-stigmatizing the use of BCHP’s other resources because this event is open and available to everyone, regardless of their level of food security.
The Free Farmer’s Market also exposes people who may never have attended a farmer’s market to see what it’s like and it may possibly inspire them to attend the weekly Downtown Waco Farmers Market or, more simply, give these individuals an opportunity to try fresh new produce. It is especially important that students struggling with food insecurity have access to fresh, healthy produce which is not often available through other free food initiatives. Another important aspect of the Farmer’s Market is the way that it provides an opportunity to put food to use that would otherwise go to waste, donated by Texas grocery stores to the Food Bank! The multifaceted benefits of the Market make it a roaring success for BCHP.
The Free Farmer’s Market also helps bridge students to other resources by informing them what else is available. Nat Mudd, who works with AmeriCorps VISTA as part of BCHP, describes the Free Farmer’s Market as a “bridge to continual access” because “at the end of the day, students are directed toward The Store”—and also the great benefit of the Market is that The Store doesn’t usually have fresh produce, and so this helps to fill that gap. The Baylor Free Farmer’s Market also provides a unique opportunity for Baylor to partner with AmeriCorps VISTA: a program in which college-age volunteers help, in part, to stem food insecurity in the United States.
Ultimately, The Free Farmer’s Market offers access to fresh food in a way that is inclusive by feeding around 2,000 students with 30,000 pounds of fresh food! The Baylor Free Farmer’s Market combines food distribution with efforts to raise awareness about hunger, nutrition, wellness, food insecurity, and related issues on our campus and in our community. So the next time the Market is running, stop by, pick up a box, and dream up what your own veggie delight will be. And, if you can, share your creation with someone else. It will taste of joy.