Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 40
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
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PU Student Initiative Plants a Seed While Promoting a Sustainable Lifestyle

Matthew Hersh

On Princeton University’s Firestone Plaza last Tuesday, the chard, broccoli, bok choi, and other assorted locally grown produce being sold by local merchants, suggested the ambience of a French market square, as hundreds of local folks roamed around, talking to organic gardening enthusiasts, supporting local business, and taking in a crisp early fall day.

But for Katy Andersen, a Princeton University senior who heads up the student environmental club Greening Princeton, the view from her vantage point at the greeting and information booth was something she never really imagined could happen.

“I had a conversation with my dad, and he said that this thing needed to be on a Saturday, it needed to be from 9 to 1, and there needed to be music,” said Ms. Andersen, who is majoring in French and Italian.

But on this day, the second in five planned farmer’s markets taking place every Tuesday through October 23, the only music is the buzz from the throngs of browsing students, vendors, and residents picking up anything from fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and perhaps a latte or two.

Ms. Andersen’s father was not trying to discourage his daughter; rather, “I think he was trying to make sure my hopes did not get too high, because to fail would be really hard.” It turns out that her father would know: in Chester County, Pa., Ms. Andersen’s parents started the farmer’s market in her hometown. The first year, Ms. Andersen said, there were three vendors and six shoppers, and “it took a couple of years to get off the ground.”

But in Princeton, where several attempts to launch a farmer’s market have failed, this market, though only in its second week, has the look of a lasting enterprise.

The outcome of a discussion three years ago between Ms. Andersen and Stu Orefice, the PU director of Dining Services, the market idea led to in an initiative of the Greening Dining Group, which is a partnership between Dining Services and Greening Princeton.

Ruthie Schwab, a PU junior who heads up the Forbes College herbs and vegetable garden and has also been a primary organizer of the market, said that a farmer’s market has community benefits ranging from long-term economic viability, to simply bringing local vendors and consumers together. “Local produce is preferable to food that has been transported many miles for several reasons: health, freshness, energy conservation, and stimulation of the local economy.”

Ms. Schwab is not alone. This year, the Princetons agreed to explore various methods of achieving sustainability by contracting with a Rutgers-based sustainability institute. That organization, the New Jersey State Sustainable Institute, is currently working with the Princeton Environmental Commission’s Sustainable Princeton in conducting energy audits on municipal and school buildings, promoting “greener” development, while also readying a general educational campaign that will outline the benefits of supporting local commerce and purchasing locally grown produce.

A farmer’s market, Ms. Andersen said, fits right into that plan.

“Farmer’s markets bring together producers you wouldn’t otherwise find in one place at one time, and it provides a social setting,” she said. “People can see each other and hang out — that social connection is so important.”

Of course, the experience is also academic: “If students can get to just one farmer’s market in their time here, then it will get them to support farmer’s markets everywhere.”

Emma Hare, a PU -sophomore and farmer’s market volunteer agreed. “It’s really good to see this kind of support. People keep saying how great this is and asking why we didn’t have this before.”

Alex Zilinski, of the Pennington-based Honey Brook Organic Farm, the largest community supported farm in the country, said the market opens the consumer to new opportunities not typically found at a standard grocery store. “A lot of people get to try the organic produce and get to see the difference between it and conventional produce,” he said, adding that a market setting is also a way “to get our name out there.”

Jessica Durrie, the proprietor of Princeton Borough’s Small World Coffee, though not a farmer, said the public market vending model was something she had been interested in taking part in. “I don’t usually do much off-site stuff, but I’ve been watching Katy’s and Ruthie’s efforts to connect the local community with the University and I just thought it was a great idea. It benefits the University, local business, and agricultural communities.”

The fact that the market is ostensibly a first in Princeton was also a draw, Ms. Durrie said: “I don’t know what kind of bureaucracy they had to go through to get this done, but it’s been such a nice surprise for everyone.”

Despite the perceived scope of the University in town, it was a relatively small administration that, according to Kristin Appelget, PU’s director of Community and Regional Affairs, was happy to help.

“We should have a farmer’s market in town, and I think they’ve found the ideal location — a place where the campus and community can interact,” she said. “When you look and see who’s here it’s students, faculty, and people from the community.”

Bill Moran, of Whole Earth Center, which has a stand at the market, said he hopes for an expanded venue in future years. “We should do June 1 through Thanksgiving so people can go out and see what’s available.”

Whole Earth’s vegan oatmeal raisin cookies, incidentally, are a hit.


Other familiar names participating in the Greening Princeton Farmer’s Market include the bent spoon (sic), Fruitwood Orchard, Cherry Grove Farm, Griggstown Farm, Witherspoon Bread Company, and Valley Shepherd Creamery.

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