On-campus farm fights food insecurity, raises hunger awareness

Project's larger purpose 'is to catalyze thought, dialogue, and action around food system issues'

Kingsborough Community College (KCC) created the first on-site farm-to-pantry college program in the nation, Lela Nargi reports for Civil Eats

Almost 40% of students in the City University of New York system, of which KCC is a part, experienced food insecurity in 2010. Three million college students visit food pantries every year, according to NPR. And 52% of all community college students lack food security, according to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's HOPE lab.

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Since its founding in 2012, the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) has supported the launch of on-campus food banks at about 220 campuses. However, no one tracks the total number of food banks, so there are likely more across the nation.

At KCC, the "Urban Farm" originally came about as a partnership with nonprofit Project Eats as a way to prototype profitable urban food farming from 2011 to 2014. KCC's Culinary Arts students worked the farm, and crops were sold to local businesses. But when Hurricane Sandy flooded the farm in 2012, Project Eats ended the contract to avoid rebuilding costs. 

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The quarter-acre of land, however, remained viable. So the college decided to use it to support its own hungry students.

The farm crew, which includes student farm aids, two part-time staffers, a farm manager, and an education manager, grows about 4,000 pounds of food including: kale, carrots, chard, cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers, collards, Asian greens, eggplants, and ground cherries.

Food is distributed at KCC's Single Stop office, which helps students apply for aid and runs the food pantry. Once every two weeks, the farm market opens for students in need as well. Students can take three items, no questions asked. Between 20 and 70 students show up—though more are likely in need. Within a few hours, everything is gone, says Cris Izaguirre, the farm manager.

The food giveaways are only part of the strategy to help students, says Mara Gittleman, the farm's education manager. The larger purposed "is to catalyze thought, dialogue, and action around food system issues." 

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But more research is needed to find scalable farm-to-pantry models, says Clare Cady, CUFBA's co-founder. Right now, no consistent studies document what is and is not working (Nargi, Civil Eats, 6/23). 


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