UD garden offers local, student-picked produce to the community
Members of the University of Delaware community searching for local, sustainable, student grown and handpicked produce need look no further than UD Fresh to You, an organic garden located on UD’s South Campus in Newark.
UD Fresh to You is heavily involved in community outreach through retail at the garden itself, donations to the Food Bank of Delaware and selling produce to local restaurants.
Located off Route 896 near the University’s Townsend Hall — next to the former Girl Scouts building and across from the historic farmhouse — patrons can stop by UD Fresh to You every Thursday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. to select from an assortment of locally grown seasonal produce, including everything from tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, squash, and collard greens to sunflowers. Available in the fall will be pumpkins, which can be used to bake pies or make jack-o’-lanterns.
Once serving as the Garden for the Community, which would donate produce solely to the Food Bank of Delaware, UD Fresh to You started doing retail business in 2013 and expanded by about an acre into a conventional field to bring the total acreage of the garden to just under four acres.
“We became a retail center for produce and we were meeting somewhat of a food desert for fresh produce in this area,” said Mike Popovich, research associate in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources who oversees the garden.
Popovich said that the garden is self-supporting and for the most part, “every penny that we generate goes back into supplies and paying wages for the students. This is an experiential learning process for them.”
With regard to the biggest seller at the garden, Popovich said that like other farms in the Mid-Atlantic, there is an emphasis on tomatoes and sweet corn.
“You live and die by the tomato in the Mid-Atlantic. If you’re of any size, you’ve got to be doing watermelon, sweet corn and tomatoes. Those are the three big crops,” he said. “Spring and fall, we’re looking at a lot of greens. We’ll sell a lot of green tomatoes this year. There’s a lot of pickling operations starting up in this area and they want to pickle green tomatoes, or make relishes and salsas.”
In the fall of 2013, a high tunnel was installed to extend the garden’s growing season into the spring and fall semesters. Production in the high tunnel began in the spring of 2014.
“The high tunnel allows us and the classes here on campus to utilize the structure so that they can actually be outside and growing things,” said Popovich, who added that they incorporate raised bed production in the high tunnel, which allows them to get more production and adds some aesthetics to the structure.
There are currently five student interns who work at the garden, with Popovich saying that as the garden expands, they will probably go up to six or eight interns total.
“We need roughly two or three interns per acre in organic production, especially with the mixed crops that we do,” Popovich said. “Melissa Hammel [a junior in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment] and Nicolas Adams [a sophomore in CANR] are also earning credits through the plant and soil sciences department for this internship. We pay pretty well. The work is hard, the days are long and it’s very hot.”
Maddie Hannah, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences who is working this summer as a full-time farm intern and helps plant, manage and harvest the produce, said that the interns usually start at seven or eight o’clock in the morning.
“We’ll rotate the crops so we’ll always have different things going in and different things going out. Tuesday and Wednesday are restaurant orders so that’s when we harvest everything and deliver it to the restaurants,” said Hannah.
Hannah said that the big draw of UD Fresh to You for her is the fact that the produce is local and organic.
“The biggest thing is locally grown. People don’t realize when you’re buying produce from Guatemala and Mexico how big of an environmental impact that has with transportation and just how it is grown. The fact that most of this is produced organically and then it’s local, your transportation costs are cut out and we don’t package anything, either,” said Hannah.
As for the most beneficial aspect of the internship, Hannah said that it is learning how the crops are grown.
“I didn’t know how okra grew. I didn’t know how hard it was to harvest a cabbage. Learning that and appreciating it. We go to the store and buy our food and that’s it, so for me, this summer, I’m learning a lot of how much work goes into it,” said Hannah.
Restaurants and the Food Bank
In addition to being able to buy the produce at UD Fresh to You, the produce is also sold to restaurants such as the House of William and Merry, which Popovich said has been with them since the beginning, the student run Vita Nova restaurant on campus, Grain on Main, Platinum Dining Group — which features restaurants such as Taverna and Red Fire Grill steakhouse — Goat Kitchen and Bar, Ulysses gastropub and Newark Natural Foods.
Popovich is also proud of the fact that after retail, the garden still has a lot of produce to donate to the Food Bank of Delaware.
“I use Friday to give extra to the Food Bank of Delaware, and we should be in that 20,000-pound donation range this year. We should shatter our 2012 record which was 16,700. I think I’m already over 10,000 for the year so I’d like to get to that 10-ton mark for the Food Bank this year,” said Popovich.
UD Fresh to You is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. every Thursday with a rain date every Friday. The produce is also available in the lobby of the UDairy Creamery.
To learn more about UD Fresh to You, connect on Facebook.
Article by Adam Thomas
Photo by Christy Mannering
This article can also be viewed on UDaily.