We are always looking for innovative ways to bring local food to our campuses. In a state like Vermont, we have the opportunity to use our small scale and strong relationships to test out new models. Molly Willard and Eva Loomis run Vermont Technical College’s Market Garden, an educational farm that partners with our produce distributor, Black River Produce, to bring Market Garden produce to four of our Vermont college campuses. We think that bears repeating. The Market Garden model is two-fold:
- An educational farm to train the next generation of farmers on sustainable growing practices.
- Uses existing infrastructure for distribution to college campuses.
Read on to learn more about the people who make this happen.
What is your role in the Market Garden?
Eva: My role as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Vermont Tech’s Market Garden is to work with Molly to manage the handful of wonderful market garden staff and volunteers to produce and distribute organically grown produce and provide the crew with educational opportunities. We discuss the projects that need attention each week and the crew and I work to get it done. It’s a good combination of learning how to grow produce, sharing that knowledge with others, and learning how to manage people. Molly’s farming experience and knowledge are absolutely critical to the vegetable production and we all look forward to her educational lessons. Being a College-run garden, learning is central to so much of what we all do here.
Molly: My main role is to oversee and guide the manager (this year being Eva) to produce high quality produce for the VSC and other institutions. I also develop vegetable farming related curriculum for courses that can potentially utilize the fields for hands on educational opportunities.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
Eva: For just over a year, I lived and milked on a small organic dairy farm in Waterbury Center where I fell in love with Vermont and its working landscape. From there, I took half a year to travel in Asia. During part of this time, I volunteered at an elephant sanctuary, living and working outdoors with minimal utilities. My experience there inspired me to reassess what I wanted in my life, and one of the top priorities is physically working outside. The food piece came about from the (at least) thrice-daily necessity of needing to find quality and affordable food to eat. I’d initially joked that I was just going to eat my way across the continent, but this is pretty much what happened. The combination of a love of good food and being outdoors seemed to naturally point to farming, so I applied for my current position and headed off to WWOOF in Japan to get a better taste for it. I’ve tried to immerse myself in as many food-related activities as possible, including volunteering with the Randolph Area Food Shelf and the Vermont Foodbank’s VT Fresh program, and my overall experience has solidified my desire to continue to be a part of Vermont’s vibrant food systems and agriculture world.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Eva: There are so many things I love about my job. I am grateful for being able to feel the weather so acutely, especially the welcome breezes and the flawless days. I’m stoked that the Garden is able to supply not only our partnering campus cafeterias with fresh produce, but our community as well. Last year we donated produce to the Randolph Area Food Shelf, and I’m happy to report that this year we’re expanding distribution to the Bethel Food Shelf as well. It’s great to know that we’re able to contribute to food security efforts and that we’re providing healthy and delicious food options for people who may not have access to it otherwise. Another really exciting part of my job is that this year I was responsible for grafting the tomatoes. Though it was a stressful process initially since I didn’t know if they were going to take, I now feel like a proud parent every time I step into the tomato house and see it filled with strong plants climbing their way toward the ceiling on their trellis lines. In fact, I just ate my first perfectly ripe Sungold today!
Molly: I studied botany as an undergrad and knew I wanted to work with plants. I have strong agricultural ties to VT on both sides of my family so there has always been a draw to agriculture as well. I have worked and managed dairy, maple and horse farms. When I started vegetable farming I knew this is what I wanted to do. Every day is different, each growing season bring new challenges and there is never a dull moment. I have never said I’m bored or sick of sitting in front of this computer as a vegetable farmer. To me it’s a way to make a living, follow my passion and provide a quality of life that fits for me.
What are you excited about when thinking about the future of the Market Garden?
Eva: We’re not exactly sure what the Market Garden’s future looks like, but we’re fine-tuning it as we go. For instance, this year we had thought of focusing on greens, but after the first succession of salad mix germinated we decided it’s not feasible because of the weed pressure in our fields. However, other crops, such as head lettuce, do really well there and we have a strong market for them so they’re definitely a keeper. This learn-as-we-go method over the last few years is continually shaping the Garden, and I enjoy taking lessons from daily, weekly, and monthly experiences with tasks and projects and thinking about how to do them differently or more efficiently in the future. Continual improvement and education is at the core of the Garden, that much is certain.
Molly: I get excited about the idea of growing food that reaches large institutions that feed many people. Providing fresh, local, healthy food to folks that eat at institutional cafeterias makes me feel like we are making a difference. I love that the market garden is created in a way to provide educational opportunities to those interested in vegetable production. With Sodexo as a partner, VTC’s access to equipment and professional savvy in all aspects of agriculture we give students a real farming experience. Students can leave knowing how to work the fields, the importance of securing a market and figuring the finances for that given market. Above all, I love watching future generations learn skill around agriculture and food production.