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One student’s push for locally sourced produce at UMBC

Only bananas and apples greet University of Maryland, Baltimore County students looking for fresh produce at True Grit’s Retriever Market or the Common’s Market. Junior geography and environmental studies major Bella Dastvan wants to change that by expanding UMBC students’ access to fresh produce. Partnering with the Office of Sustainability and Oca Mocha, Dastvan is working to establish a farmers market at UMBC.

Dastvan’s idea for a UMBC farmers market formed after she began working at one this past year. She enjoyed watching people build community over locally sourced food and products, and wanted UMBC students and nearby residents to have the same opportunity to bond over fresh food and art.

“We hope to provide easier access to healthy foods, support local businesses and especially strengthen ties between the Arbutus and UMBC community,” said Dastvan. 

UMBC’s farmers market is still in its early planning stages. Currently, the Office of Sustainability is running a survey to gauge interest from UMBC students, staff, faculty and surrounding residents. Responses will be collected until the end of the semester, and will determine whether the university will continue efforts on the project.

Sustainability Coordinator Kayla Hickman stated that without enough interest, it would be difficult to start a farmers market at UMBC. She explained that the hardest part of establishing a market is proving to vendors that their businesses would have enough customers to make it worth their venture.

“It takes a lot of time and money for vendors to sell their products, and you have to prove that there’s an actual customer base here so that they don’t lose any money,” said Hickman. “So, we have to convince local vendors that this is a good investment on their end.”

Additionally, Dastvan and Hickman need to work with Chartwells, the university’s contracted food provider. Since Chartwells is the sole provider of food on campus, it has to consent to having other vendors on campus. 

Even though the project is still in it early phases, UMBC-affiliated Arbutus coffee shop Oca Mocha is already partnering with Dastvan and Hickman. The coffee shop helped spread the Office Of Sustainability’s survey through their “Weekly Brew” newsletter. It also interviewed Dastvan on its YouTube channel about her efforts.

In addition to hosting Oca Mocha and other local vendors at the future farmers market, Dastvan and Hickman hope to partner with clubs and organizations across campus. Specifically, Dastvan looks to work with the Retriever Music Society to hold live performances at the market. Hickman hopes student artists would showcase and sell their artwork as well.

“Sustainability to me is not only buying local produce,” explained Hickman. “It’s also supporting local artists and local businesses. I can’t see a better way of doing that than incorporating it into UMBC’s farmers market.”

University-sponsored farmers markets are relatively common, stated Hickman. Dastvan looks to model UMBC’s market like the one held by the University of Maryland, College Park at Tawes Plaza Garden. While the site of a future UMBC market remains undetermined, current possibilities include Erikson Field or Eastern Avenue in Arbutus. 

A UMBC farmers market would compete with the already established Catonsville farmer’s market. However, Hickman hopes to make the university’s market as unique as campus itself, incomparable to other local markets.

If you are interested in seeing a farmers market at UMBC, you can find Dastvan’s and the Office of Sustainability’s survey here.