At the CitySeed farmers’ market in Wooster Square on Sunday, a table labeled with the “Yale Sustainable Food Project” logo was out of produce shortly after the market opened.
“The spinach was gone in, what, two minutes?” said Nat Wilson ’09, who helps manage the Yale Farm’s stand.
But although demand is high for organic produce from the Yale Farm, the benefit to the University of participating in the market is not just a financial one. Although revenue from the market funnels back to the farm to pay for seeds, tools and other needs, the venture serves mainly to connect Yale to the local farming community, another of the stand’s managers, Emily Casaretto ’09, said.
Now in its sixth growing season, the Yale Farm continues to harvest its spinach, parsnips, horseradish, asparagus, herbs, tomatoes and other produce primarily as a tool for teaching students and the community what it means to run a sustainable enterprise, she added.
“The value, on the bottom line, is in educating students and creating leaders,” co-Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project Josh Viertel said.
Vendors, who include farmers and crafters from all over Connecticut, must pay a fee to run a stand at the Wooster market. The fee is calculated according to a sliding scale based on the quantity of food sold each week, Casaretto said. A portion of sales is returned to CitySeed, a local nonprofit founded by Jennifer McTiernan H. ’99 with the aim of improving food security and access to local produce.
Viertel said Yale signed up as one of the first of CitySeed’s market vendors. But, he said, the Yale Farm does not intend in any way to compete with local farmers, who depend on profits from the market to sustain their livelihood.
Since the Yale Farm is subsidized by the University, Casaretto said, its produce at the market is sold at a higher price — both out of respect for the other vendors and because of the smaller volume and higher quality of the farm’s harvest.
“We don’t want to be selfishly undercutting other vendors’ prices,” Casaretto said. “It’s not why we come here.”
“Everyone sells out of everything,” Viertel added. “There is so much demand for local, sustainable food right now.”
Because they are not profit-dependent, the Yale Farm also has the luxury of trial and error. Casaretto said the farm has experimented with growing strawberries, multiple varieties of salad greens, uncommon herbs like papalo and even stinging nettles, a notorious weed with prickers that “stick to your legs.” Casaretto said the nettles can be used to make pastas, soups and even teas. At the farm on Friday, volunteers planted 25 fruit trees, although Casaretto admitted that “no one really knows much about pruning.”
Working alongside local farmers, she said, is more a partnership than a case of competition.
“We like to have an interface with other vendors,” she said, “and the benefit goes both ways.”
Dining services spends $1.6 million annually on food bought from local farms, Viertel said. And feeding thousands of students at each meal is a stable source of demand and an important outlet for many local farmers, he said.
At the Wooster Square market, shoppers lined up for a sample of Suzanne Sankow’s feta cheese, which the University buys to use in the dining halls’ lamb-and-feta patties. Nearby, Vincent Kay, whose 400 beehives produce honey for Yale, fielded questions about creamed honey as he handed out spoonfuls of the sweet treat to passersby.
“The University and its dining halls are not going to get better unless we work with them,” Casaretto said. “The University,” she added, “is not ‘The Man.’ ”
The Wooster Square farmers’ market will be open every Saturday afternoon, starting in May.