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Ashley (left), and Tiffany Yeu Vang.

Help Yourself to Health

By Adam Overland

From Brief, July 16, 2008

On a single stretch of street, a person can sip organic mint iced tea made by the Campus Club using mint grown at the U student farm Cornercopia (see sidebar), eat fresh-off-the-farm strawberries, polish off an ear of corn, and grab a quick, free massage. Now in its fourth season, the U's farmers market opened July 9 at its location along Church Street. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on Wednesdays through Oct. 8, more than a dozen vendors with over 20 booths will sell locally grown flowers, fruits, and vegetables, rain or shine. As the season progresses, so will the variety offered. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum wasn't present opening day, but it will be later in the year, bringing Minnesota-made maple syrup--a first this year--along with apples and plums. Also new this summer: vendors will sell honey in limited quantities. For on the spot eating, the Northrop Grill will serve food from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. each week, featuring a special menu item of locally grown and organic products as they come into season. And if you're wondering what to do with the corn husks or the heap of stems left after you've stripped the basil leaves, University Dining Services (UDS) Green Team members are on hand to show you how to compost.

Cornercopia farm manager Jolyne Pomeroy and marketing manager Mike Goebel, both seniors in horticulture, tend the Cornercopia booth with Courtney Tchida, program coordinator for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. The student-run organic farm will be present at the market throughout the season.
Cornercopia farm manager Jolyne Pomeroy and marketing manager Mike Goebel, both seniors in horticulture, tend the Cornercopia booth with Courtney Tchida, program coordinator for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. The student-run organic farm will be present at the market throughout the season.

Green panacea With the season's theme "What's not to like about green?" the Employee Wellness Program of the Office of Human Resources (OHR) wants to emphasize that eating local can be good for your body, your wallet, the community, and the environment. It's a theme closely aligned with the U's commitments to conserve fossil fuel, help protect the environment, and support the regional economy. As fuel and health care costs soar, while the environment and economy stumble, the farmers market seeks to provide relief in small but key ways. "Our market is a good way to counter [fuel prices]," says market coordinator Jill Thielen. "Because our produce is all locally grown, it doesn't have as far to travel, so less fuel and energy is being used to bring fresh goods to market." Indeed, given that the average American's food has journeyed 1,500 miles before it moves the final inches from fork to mouth, it's refreshing to know that, for example, food from Cornercopia comes from a mere 4.2 miles away at the U campus in St. Paul. In fact, all vendors at the market are required to be local--defined as being within two hours driving distance--and no food can be purchased from a distributor. A flowering trend Farmers markets are growing in popularity throughout the country as people seek nearby solutions to far-reaching problems. More than 4,300 markets operate throughout the nation today, up nearly 20 percent from 2004-06 (the latest statistics available from the USDA). And money spent close to home tends to stay in the community, helping the local economy and the farmers themselves. Yee Yeu Vang and her family were present on opening day selling fresh vegetables and flowers brought from their farm in Farmington, Minnesota. Yeu Vang started selling produce and flowers at the Church Street market two years ago. She had seen a flyer that the U distributed at a downtown Minneapolis farmers market where she also has a booth. She recognized the opportunity, and today she and eight family members--daughters, sons, and grandchildren--work the stand. "The whole family helps out," says Yeu Vang.

Here, UDS plastic food containers are made of the same ingredient they hold--corn. The resin-based plastic is part of the many compostable items offered by UDS at its campus food venues, through its larger environmental initiative. In 2007, UDS purchased 170,184 pounds of local foods from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa--a 184 percent increase over 2006.
Here, UDS plastic food containers are made of the same ingredient they hold--corn. The resin-based plastic is part of the many compostable items offered by UDS at its campus food venues, through its larger environmental initiative. In 2007, UDS purchased 170,184 pounds of local foods from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa--a 184 percent increase over 2006.

A culture of wellness Since its founding as a land grant university, the U has sought to enrich the greater community. The farmers market follows this vision and also nurtures a culture of wellness by giving employees convenient, healthy, and accessible options. "That's what our [the U Wellness] mission is--to create a healthy environment for our employees," says Thielen. "And so, in addition to the market, we provide health coaching and screenings, and offer the fitness reward program." Among the food and flower vendors, Boynton Health Service will also be at the market offering massages throughout the summer, and a nutritionist and fitness representative will be there to answer questions. "It really is a partnership of a lot of different entities on campus that all come together to make it a success," says Thielen. OHR communications director Lori Ann Vicich says that the wellness plan is part of an attempt to control the rising costs of health care by helping employees improve their personal well-being. "The idea of wellness is spreading like wildfire because health care costs are increasing fast, and people are taking more responsibility for their own health," says Vicich. Through the wellness program, the U is making the tools available for employees to take their health and its associated costs into their own hands. It's a form of preventive medicine, and the farmers market is a fun and tasty way to take that medicine. For more information, see Farmers Market.


Who knew carrots came in so many colors other than orange?

Want to learn more?

For the benefits of eating local, and how to do it, see Eating Close to Home.

For more on UDS's Green Team composting program, see Every Napkin Counts.

For tips on how to prepare for and shop at the market, see the sidebar Shopping Tips.

Cornercopia, a University of Minnesota student-managed, sustainable farming initiative, is expecting organic certification by the USDA any day. (It typically takes three years to transition to an organic farm--a field can be considered for certification 36 months after it has last been sprayed with a prohibited substance.) As the market's sole vendor for soon-to-be-officially-organic produce, Cornercopia grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (including the multi-colored heirloom carrot) and specializes in heirloom tomatoes and wild-salad mix. "We try to pick our produce when it is at peak flavor and perfectly ripe," says Courtney Tchida, program coordinator for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. "Take a taste test. Compare what you buy at the farmers market with what's available in a supermarket, where produce is generally picked almost a week before appearing on the store shelf. Of the more than 100 varieties grown on our student farm, we choose varieties for taste rather than for the ability to store for weeks on end in transit." For more information, see Cornercopia.