By Stan Maddux
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Normally, vegetables grown by agriculture students at Purdue University are served in dining halls at the school but with the campus mostly empty from the COVID-19 outbreak the produce is being donated to help feed the hungry.
About 200 pounds of fresh greens harvested from high tunnels at the Purdue School Farm have been delivered every week at no cost to Food Finders Food Bank in Lafayette and the on campus ACE Food Pantry for the past month.
Chris Adair, the student farm manager, said giving helps ease shortages the food banks might be experiencing from higher demand caused by high unemployment and supermarkets with less food to donate from stockpiling consumers rushing to the stores.
“A lot of people have been kind of raiding the grocery stores so there tends to be less food to give out to folks who need it,” he said.
“We want to do our part for our community,” said Steve Hallett, horticulture and landscape architecture professor and advisor to the student farm.
Donating is also viewed as a good way of keeping the farm active and the four students working there engaged in the program.
Adair said baby kale planted in the fall started being delivered in half pounds bags first to the food banks then later in season spinach. He expects spinach to keep flowing for another couple of weeks before lettuce nearing harvest is ready for the twice a week deliveries. Adair said more kale along with cabbage still a month or two from reaching maturity are next in line for the foods banks.
“Once those are ready they will also start being moved to the pantries,” he said.
A slight percentage of the produce is still being sold to one of the dining halls still open serving the handful of students remaining on the campus. Some of those students from other countries were unable to go back home due to flight restrictions to try and limit the spread of the global pandemic.
Tomatoes, peppers and onions are among the other vegetables grown at the 3.5 acre farm consisting of four high tunnels and a traditional outdoor plot currently being planted.
Students are staying safe while working on the farm. They work in two small groups at a safe distance apart from each other while harvesting and packaging. Students also wear masks and gloves at all times while handling food, officials said.
Hallett said the plan is to keep operating the farm and have fresh produce ready for students when they’re allowed to return. “We hope we will be able to sell to the dining halls by the end of the summer but, if not, we will sell directly to the community and we will continue to donate,” Hallett said.
The school farm started in 2010 also features a few apple trees and other fruit bearing plants not producing anything worth harvesting yet since they were just put into the ground a couple of years ago.
“It may feel like the world has stopped but people still need access to food which means workers along the entire supply chain farmers to grocery clerks are essential in keeping the nation fed,” Hallett said.