By Teresa Ugarte
It’s a crisp fall afternoon. Tawes Plaza is crawling with students hurrying to make it to their next class. Many don’t even pause to look at the tents set up around the plaza, where vendors are selling a vast variety of goods, ranging from bread to fruit to uncooked meat. Every Wednesday, from the start of the fall semester until November 14th, Tawes Plaza hosts the University of Maryland Farmers Market. With vendors travelling from no more than 250 miles away, it’s a great opportunity for students to purchase local produce from small businesses.
But many students either don’t know about the market, or don’t go to it regularly.
Gloria Ngo, a freshman accounting major, said that she’s only been to the farmers market “once or twice.” Emily Fang, a senior plant science major, has never been.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, College Park is a food desert, meaning that residents live a significant distance from reliable sources of healthy food. In urban areas like College Park, this means residents live half a mile to a mile or more away from grocery stores. Many students simply eat at the campus dining halls. But this doesn’t help students without a meal plan, who can find it difficult to get access to groceries without a car.
Fang lives in a South Campus Commons apartment and does not have a meal plan. “I mostly get groceries from home,” said Fang, “Or at the Target if it’s something small.” Fang says she doesn’t consider the market as a source of food because the location is inconvenient.
Juan Valencia from Valencia’s Produce sells seasonal produce and fruit at the market. When asked if he thought the market was well-utilized by students, Valencia replied “This year, yes, since we changed the location. But the problem is a lot of students are underclassmen who don’t have access to kitchens.”
Fang agrees that the new location is more convenient than the old one in front of Cole Field House, but said that “Target Express is closer to South Campus where most of the dorms with kitchens are,” which is probably why less upperclassmen visit the market.
According to the farmers market website, vendors sell a variety of food items, including locally sourced meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, locally sourced eggs and artisan breads and baked goods. These products are traditionally difficult to access in a food desert.
In theory, the University of Maryland Farmers Market could help alleviate some of the challenges of living in a food desert. But in reality, few students take advantage of what it has to offer.
Featured Photo Credit: A variety of fruits and other items available for sale at the farmers market (Teresa Ugarte/Bloc Reporter).
Teresa Ugarte is a freshman journalism and English major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.