The Office of Sustainability, in cooperation with Growing Washington, an organization dedicated to strengthening local communities through sustainable practices, will be giving students and staff the opportunity to receive fresh, locally-grown vegetables and produce through the Viking Supported Agriculture project.
The VSA project is a take on the well-established CSA, or community supported agriculture project. Students and staff can sign up to receive VSA boxes by emailing Student VSA Coordinators Simon Davis-Cohen at Simon@readthedirt.org, or Samuel Eisen-Meyers at SEM5007@hotmail.com.
“The idea behind it is that we’re connecting consumers with farmers to purchase local and organic vegetables,” Campus Sustainability Manager Seth Vidaña said. “The intent is to get people aware that we are a county that has agricultural plenty as well as provide direct support for farmers who need our financial support to make their farms run.”
Students, staff and faculty will be able to customize their VSA boxes each week, choosing from a variety of more than 35 different fruits, vegetables and herbs.
There will be three types of boxes: a faculty and staff-targeted $25-per-week Viking box, featuring 10 to 11 items; a $30-per-week Veggie Bomb Box, featuring 14 to 15 items; and the Starving Student Box, which is the student equivalent to the Viking Box that comes with a $3 subsidy from Growing Washington, making the box $22 per week.
“It’s an opportunity for students to receive a discounted price for local, sustainable, nutritious food that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” Davis-Cohen said.
Students and faculty can pay for one box a week for the entire run of the program, or for a box every other week until Dec. 1, when the VSA project will discontinue for the year. Final payments must be made by Nov. 10. The VSA boxes will be available for pick-up between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. every Thursday, excluding Thanksgiving, outside of Carver Gym.
“From support of local agriculture to support of organic agriculture to being more in connection with your local food shed, there’s a wide variety of reasons why [VSA boxes make] sense,” Vidaña said.
While the logistics for this program are new this year, Western saw its first CSA pilot program last year when the Campus Sustainability Planning Studio, a hands-on, problem-based learning class, came up with the idea of hosting a farmers market in the Performing Arts Center plaza.
“Going out and talking with people, the research group found that maybe we weren’t ready quite yet for a farmers market,” Vidaña said. “But people really wanted to have a connection with local agricultural businesses and local farmers.”
Thus, a short-lived CSA program was born. Funding from a grant through the Whatcom Community Foundation enabled the Office of Sustainability to hire a small staff and pay for advertising for the new VSA boxes.
Growing Washington, the organization supplying the VSA boxes, is the same organization that supplies the dining halls with much of their vegetables and produce. Dining Services has a commitment to the Office of Sustainability to provide at least 20 percent local, organic, fair trade and community-raised foods in the dining halls on average each year, through what is known as the Real Food Challenge.
“Dining services and the VSA are dealing with the same entity,” Vidaña said. “We’ve just said [to Growing Washington], ‘great, we’re getting your vegetables in the dining halls, but we want to provide the great produce that you guys make for faculty staff and students as well.’”