Bringing the countryside to the campus

The market is open Wednesdays on the main floor of the Student Union Building, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Photo: Tim Callanan)

Dalhousie University students can pick up their red kale, green peppers and golden beets on the way to class, thanks to a new market on campus.

On Wednesdays the Dalhousie Student Union Farmer’s Market Collective sets out its weekly bounty of local fruit, vegetables and baked goods at the Student Union Building.

The market opened in September and sells produce from small family farms in Nova Scotia that might not otherwise reach Halifax consumers.

“We have about 12 farms that we’re working with and they don’t use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers,” says Laurelle Birk, one of the market’s founders and coordinators.

Birk, who studies international development and sustainability, says it not only helps local farmers — it is committed to students’ interests. She says they keep prices low, marking up the products as little as possible.

“That’s enough to buy our scales and keep us going,” she says. While the market receives funding from Dal’s student union, “the neat part is we haven’t had to use that yet.”

A chalkboard shows the market’s prices compared with the cost of the same products at Superstore. A pound of pears costing $2.49 at the store only costs $1.25 at the market.

Dalhousie Farmer’s Market coordinator Laurelle Birk (second from left) with volunteers Elissa Christie, Matthew Green and Theresa Boulos. (Photo: Tim Callanan)

“I didn’t even know that a lot of it is actually cheaper than at the grocery store, which is super cool,” says Matthew Green, a student at the University of King’s College who volunteers and shops at the market.

It can be difficult to convince students they can eat healthy, says Linda Mann, associate professor of nutrition at Mount Saint Vincent University.

In a study of students at the Mount and Saint Mary’s University, she found respondents get about half the servings of fruit and vegetables they need.

“More than 40 per cent said they avoid certain foods due to budget restrictions,” Mann says. She says this can mean choosing premade food instead of something fresh.

“I don’t do much grocery shopping. I try to not spend so much,” says Kyril Wolfe, a student living in residence at King’s. He says many students just want something cheap and easy.

But Mann says eating food close to where it is grown means it will maintain more of its nutrients, as long as it is delivered efficiently.

“It’s all about understanding truly what happens,” she says. “If you really have a good network set up for getting your local produce, then you definitely should.”

As cold weather slows down the local harvest, Birk says she hopes to keep the market’s momentum going. Through the winter she plans to branch out into selling more baked goods and preserves, maintaining an emphasis on local and sustainable food.