A Taste of Community

Haverford  College students are finding out how to do well while they eat well

By Molly Minden

Steaming sweet potatoes and roasted radishes sprinkled with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Layers of red and yellow onions and dark purple kale leaves. Sautéed broccoli, chopped bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, spicy green horseradish leaves and slender stalks of celery. All grown within 50 miles of your house and harvested yesterday.

Freshly dug carrots, bags of popcorn, garlic, peppery black radishes. Bunches of leeks, red and yellow stalks of Swiss chard with deep green leaves, string beans, beets, purple potatoes, and crisp stayman apples.

Haverford College students participating in this semester’s Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, receive a cardboard box brimming with these vegetable and more every week.

For $375 a semester, a group of students can invest in a farmer. They give him the money upfront, so he can use it to buy seeds and tools for the season. Then, every week, the students receive a huge box of freshly harvested vegetables, from cabbage and spinach to butternut squash and fennel.

While some items, such as apples, are already a staple in the students’ lives, others, such as romanesco – a lime-green fractal cousin of cauliflower and broccoli- require experimentation and research in how to prepare them.

A Box of Organic Vegetables

“I like the surprise of what’s going to come, and it’s a challenge to cook with sometimes unidentified green things. I enjoy that,” said Haverford College student Emily Northrop, ’14.

Members of a CSA choose to invest in the farmer. When the farmer grows too much zucchini, the students use it in zucchini lasagna, zucchini bread, and even zucchini soufflé. If the vegetables flourish, the students receive boxes overflowing with goods. When floods or other difficult weather hits, the boxes are less full.

But students aren’t just buying into food shares. They also want more of a connection to their food.

“I like knowing that there’s a face on the other side. It’s his farm, and the employees aren’t mistreated migrant farmers, but people who are actually excited about farming and have good jobs,” said Northrop.

Students want roasted vegetables with a side of community.

Yet, for Andrew Thompson, HC ’14, this connection isn’t as present in reality. “I really don’t feel like we’re part of a community at all. I feel like I show up to a garage and I take boxes out,” he said.

Sam Shain, HC ’14 described “you feel like you have a hands-on relationship with your food.”

For Atena Jeretic, HC ’14, the CSA is part of building a larger community. She and her housemates use the vegetables, yogurt, and eggs to “make big dinners that we share.”

Thompson and his 11 housemates often use the vegetables and eggs to make communal meals.

Bud Wimer, the farmer that most Haverford students buy CSAs from, shares recipes with his members such as “spicy braised collards,” “potato-leek soup,” and “roasted acorn squash with chile vinaigrette” each week to inspire working with the vegetables. The students call him “farmer Bud.”

His farm, about 45 miles from the campus, grows a variety of vegetables on a smaller plot of land. He began his CSA in 2009, the first year that Haverford students joined. While one house of students joined the first year, now Bud delivers 9 large boxes of vegetables a week to the Ardmore area for Haverford students.

Not only do students have CSAs, but they are talking about them too.

“I have noticed that a lot of people talk about their CSAs. On the list when I went to pick it up once, I noticed a lot of Haverford names on the list,” said Northrop.

In this sense, CSAs are not only a trend, but they are now becoming part of a broader social movement. They are part of fostering environmental sustainability and community. They are part of a broader social movement.

“I see it as a fair food in that it’s directly supporting a local farmer,” said Northrop, “[It’s] supporting the local community as well as reducing transport costs and the carbon footprint.”

“Local money stays local,” said Shain.

She tries to pick up the CSA by biking, so that her part of getting the vegetables is “carbon neutral.”

Students are now starting to organize around CSAs. A new group on campus, the Food Revolution, aims to bring farmer Bud Wimer to campus to share his experience as a CSA farmer.

“In some ways, it’s like being a part of a club. You get certain privileges if you are part of a CSA,” said Shain. For Shain, the CSA is a way to show your shared values.

She described some of the tensions in this new movement. “You have to have enough money at the beginning of the season to buy all the food you’re going to be eating for the rest of the season,” she said.

While CSAs are a way for students to live out their values such as environmental responsibility, not everyone can afford them.

Yet for those who can, there was a consensus that it is an important part of their lives.

“It feels really good to promote local agriculture. . . I really really believe in it” said Jeretic.

“CSAs are where my genesis was in terms of this alternative food movement,” said Shain, now active in Haverford’s sustainability and environmental movement.

While CSAs are a relatively new presence on Haverford’s campus, for Shain “its roots are spreading.”