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Sustainable Student Farm sure knows how to “turnip”

I first stumbled upon the Sustainable Student Farm stand on Thursday afternoon on my way to class. I was almost overwhelmed with the variety of produce being sold. I started at it and bought a bag of spinach, mini peppers, green onion and an acorn squash because it just looked so cool. While checking out I chatted with Matt Turino. He was also a big fan of the fresh produce that the stand offered and as a volunteer there are more opportunities for obtaining fresh produce. With fads of today dealing with eating more organically, I have been curious to hop on the bandwagon and start eating right. But SSF has a view on sustainability that goes beyond what most people think. 

I sat down with Zack Grant, a founder to the start of the Sustainable Student Farm, to get a first person view on the SSF. While interviewing Zack, I started to get more and more intrigued with the SSF. There is so much that goes into it, more than I would have ever imagined. I was interested in the types of squash that the SSF grows and how exactly to eat them. They are a great idea for autumn decorations, but I am always trying to get a new flavorful veggie into a fresh, mouthwatering dish. 

Zack gave me the low down behind the farm while we chatted over coffee at Espresso Royal. I first wondered what exactly makes this farm sustainable. Zack’s response was an instant chuckle, which gave me an idea to where his explanation was going. The SSF is considered sustainable because of the fact that it follows certain organic practices. Although it is not certified to be organic at this time, SSF uses many different sustainable practices like crop rotation and not using pesticides. They also use an electric tractor that is re-chargeable and their time from harvesting and selling is usually less than a day. I have experienced the freshness: my spinach was crispy and even smelled fresh. The peppers and green onion had incredible flavor, which was a very nice change to my usual college-budget produce selection from Meijer.

The process to become a certified organic farm takes years of detailed records and at this time, I agreed with Zack that for the time being, certification was more of a future implication. Since the farm started in 2009, the main focus has been on growing produce, giving students an opportunity for learning, and providing the community and the campus with locally grown produce. SSF is providing a fresher, higher, quality product. 

Students are large contributors to the SSF. Most students get involved through certain classes that they take on campus due to extra credit or class field trips to the SSF to help volunteer. There also is an opportunity for a few students to intern for a seasonal job, and can even get paid for such a position. Talk about a good gig for the green thumbs of our community! It’s early hours in the summer, but very rewarding. 

I couldn’t leave the conversation without asking Zack if there was any fun produce that SSF grows. One of Zack’s most enjoyable crop to grow is popcorn. Unlike sweet corn, popcorn needs less care and can even be neglected but still creates a delicious crop. I was not very informed about popcorn, but Zack was able to shed some light about how easy it is to make popcorn from the cobb. There are machines that take the kernels off the cobb, but, for the everyday average Joe, you can just take the ear (after drying it out for a few weeks) and put it in a paper bag and the microwave does the popping. Although it is not something SSF will sell a lot of, it’s a fun crop to experiment with and to enjoy after a long day.

Looking to get involved? The Sustainable Student Farm loves volunteers year-round! Visit the website to get more information about volunteer opportunities and be prepared to leave with your hands full of culled produce! There are also a few “open houses” where you can tour the farm. 

Seasonal produce will be sold at the Anniversary Plaza from May to November on Thursdays, 11 5 p.m. The Anniversary Plaza is located behind the Illini Union on Green St. on the quad.

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