By contributor Jordan Peterman

Between mountains of reading, writing essays, cramming for exams, and trying to salvage something of a social life, students will often cut corners when it comes to eating right. On top of this hectic lifestyle, it can feel impossible to tackle issues like fighting climate change, supporting local agriculture, and raising funds to help our classmates facing challenges and disabilities. Who has the time? Well, as it turns out, we all do.

The on-campus farmers’ market accomplishes all of these things and more. The market was developed as a joint effort between the Campus Food Movement and the Workplace Essential Skills Training Program (WEST). The Campus Food Movement was looking for a way to promote food security, support farmers in the Nanaimo area, and increase access to fresh, organic food on campus. Then along came Craig Evans, WEST Worksite Trainer, with over 30 years of agricultural experience and a passion for food, who was looking for a way for his students to develop entrepreneurial skills in a supportive environment. “It was win-win on all levels, and it just came together,” Evans said.

The WEST Program provides workplace training for VIU students who have challenges and disabilities. This is a great cause to support on campus, and doing so is no harder than buying dinner. First-year WEST students get to spend time on a farm, learning and developing valuable agricultural skills, while second-year students move on to develop retail skills which includes helping to operate the farmers’ market table. The program also shares in the proceeds, receiving 25 per cent of the gross profits to help with funding. The remaining profit supports the Farmship Grower’s Coop, a cooperative of local farmers located just 25 km from campus, who are growing and supplying the veggies. It doesn’t get more local than that.

“You have a relationship with the people who are growing your food,” Evans explained. “The money goes directly to farmers. The stuff that is bought from the supermarket can come from anywhere on the planet.”

VIU students also come from all corners of the globe, so buying local organic food can be a great way to get a real taste of Nanaimo.

“This might be their first opportunity to buy directly from a farmer, and it helps support that culture of local agriculture,” said Evans. Experiencing local food means working with nature, not against it, and learning to appreciate the very ground that we walk on. It is also a piece of authentic Canadian culture. “Food and culture are one-and-one. You can’t have a culture without food.”

As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, buying local also pays off financially. “The channel of distribution is less, so you’re paying much less,” said WEST Program Market Supervisor Jacqueline Burnip. “And unlike the supermarket, the vegetables don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it only has to taste pretty.”

With a reduced supply chain, the on-campus farmers’ market can also pass savings on to the customer because the workers are volunteers and the growers don’t use any conventional agricultural inputs like herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The end result is cheap, healthy, and positive for everyone involved.

If supporting this great cause, helping the environment, and connecting to nature aren’t enough motivation, eating right should be, because poor diet choices will certainly come back to us later in life.

“Students might not notice it right now, but it will catch up with you. At 35 years old you will say ‘I should’ve done something different,’” said Evans. “In the end, you never think ‘Oh gee, all of the food I ate was too good.’”

The VIU farmers’ market is every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. outside of the upper cafeteria.