Brown University’s Market Shares studies up on community agriculture
By Ashlyn Mooney
Five o’clock on a Thursday in July, and Brown Market Shares pick-up day is in full swing. Students and university staff members pick their way through milk crates filled with this week’s offerings, long baguettes and frilly kale leaves peeking out from grocery bags under their arms. In partnership with Farm Fresh Rhode Island since 2009, Brown Market Shares acts as a campus CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program) connecting the Brown community to local farms. Who says college kids don’t eat their vegetables?
Every week of my three seasons as a shareholder I am treated to a taste-test of what’s available from Rhode Island farms. As in a typical CSA model, shareholders pay farmers for a portion of their season’s harvest. Brown Market Shares diverges from the CSA model there—instead of paying one farmer for a slice of his or her harvest, shareholders pay for shares from five to ten farms. More shares means the program supports multiple farms, and we shareholders get to sample a wider variety of food.
Fall and spring bring flavorful squash and tubers, while summer comes with a full and colorful array of veggies. On Monday nights, Market Shares sends out an e-mail detailing what’s in that week’s share. There’s nothing like an e-mail promising a cornucopia of delicious food, come Thursday afternoon, to get you through a long week.
Anyone affiliated with the university—staff members, professors, undergrads and grad students—can purchase a share in advance of either the spring, summer or fall seasons. In addition to the basic produce share, carnivores, carb and cheese-lovers can purchase extra shares of meat, bread, eggs, cheese or yogurt. Each of the three seasons is 10 weeks long, scheduled around the academic calendar. Student shareholders fuel their study parties with roasted root veggies from Market Shares, or stock summer barbeques with Market Shares corn on the cob.
At my weekly volunteer shift on pick-up day, I watch summer pass in a parade of produce: The tender greens and delicate heads of baby lettuce that crowd together in their boxes so winsomely at the start of June are replaced by July’s cucumbers and rainbow Swiss chard. Late summer brings sweet corn, blueberries and tomatoes. The veggies are grown close to home—the program sources all its food from farms within a 20-mile radius of College Hill, delivered by Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s farm-to-business delivery service, Market Mobile.
The delivery service and its spoils may seem flashy, but the price tag isn’t. Market Shares is committed to sharing the bounty, offering reduced-costshares to the community members who need them. The full-priced shares subsidize low and mid-cost shares, and volunteer labor keeps the program self-sufficient.
As a staunchly anti-kale 10 year old I would never have imagined myself carting home bushels of the stuff and happily cooking it up. Yet at 21, that’s just what I find myself doing with a wide range of veggies. The bounty from Brown Market Shares tastes that much better for being the locally sourced product of an equitable, community-based program.