By Amanda A. Taylor
Fresh produce, home baked goods and vegan and vegetarian items are available for a small cost to university students and the public every month, through the UTRGV Environmental Awareness Club’s Farmers Market.
Bunches of deep green kale and fresh rainbow Swiss chard were just a few of the organic items for sale at the November market, the last market for the fall semester. During school breaks, the farmers market, which has been in operation for about two years now, shuts down until students return for the following school semester.
“Our goal is to promote healthier lifestyles to students through food and by making these organic foods available at a cheaper cost than grocery stores,” said Suzanne El-Haj, co-president of the club.
Some of the produce, when available, is harvested from a garden belonging to the Agroecology and Resilient Food Systems department, School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences, on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. Produce also is donated to the Environmental Awareness Club by neighboring farms across the Rio Grande Valley when they either have an excess of product or produce that would be harder to sell.
All produce sold at the farmer’s market is certified organic, having been harvested according to USDA standards.
El-Haj, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, said eating locally produced food provides benefits to consumers and the economy alike, and has a reduced environmental footprint.
“Eating local is great because not as much gasoline is used for transporting vegetables from other places,” she said. “It also builds stronger communities and local economies for all the farmers and agricultural professionals involved.”
Martha Garcia, co-president of Environmental Awareness Club, said the menu changes from month to month. For example, November’s market offerings included homemade vegan dishes, like plant-based chili recipes, camote de piloncillo (a Mexican sweet potato dessert), herbal teas, and vegan cheese and chips.
“We mix up the dishes with vegan and vegetarian chilis, sandwiches, and baked goods like brownies, cookies and pumpkin-flavored desserts,” said Garcia, a premed-track biology major.
Though not entirely vegetarian or vegan, Garcia tries to adhere to plant-based foods for their many health benefits and her concerns about the meat industry.
“Plant-based diets lower the risk of developing heart disease because you’re avoiding greasy foods and meats which can lead to cholesterol plaque buildup,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing my best to reduce my carbon footprint, and I think everyone should be trying to do the same.”
The next market is set for February, outside the Recreation Center on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. For more information on the Environmental Awareness Club Farmers Market, email firstname.lastname@example.org.