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Students work to make fresh produce available on campus

By MARY GRACI
On January 23, 2014

As busy college students in an urban environment, a Loyola student and a Tulane student struggled to maintain a refrigerator full of fresh vegetables.
When Loyola management senior Conor Millstein and Tulane student Sam Turner recognized that this was an issue common among Loyola and Tulane students, they took the initiative to search for a solution.
Millstein and Turner worked together to create Student Supported Agriculture, an organization spurred by the lack of connection between university students' demand for access to fresh and local produce and the financial instability of local urban farms, they said.
With a mission to build bridges across the vast food deserts in the New Orleans area, Millstein and Turner said they have been working with Tulane student Emma Lisec and Loyola sociology junior Alex Goldman to start up the project, receive grants and make a difference in their community.
The organization offers semester-long subscriptions for students to receive the organic produce provided by local growers. Students have the opportunity to pay at the start of the semester and periodically receive fresh fruits and vegetables on campus.
While not only providing this bridge between consumer and producer, the project also raises awareness of what is happening just around the corner, Millstein said.
"There are plenty of people out there trying to make a difference by throwing money at a situation, and there are also people making a true and valiant effort to make this city a safer and more connected place to live," Millstein said.
Student Supported Agriculture is working in conjunction with Our School at Blair Grocery, an independent food justice academy in the Lower Ninth Ward designed to educate students about sustainability and the regional food economy.
"We began working in the Lower Ninth Ward with stronger intention and purpose, developing intensive service learning curriculum designed to not only expose students to social realities of local and global issues, but to provide experiences that would train the students to become agents of change," Goldman said. "Our partnership with Our School at Blair Grocery marked the model of engagement we desired."
The goal of these inspired students is to build an organization similar to a Community Supported Agriculture system and to strengthen the relationship between students and the New Orleans community with the help of Our School at Blair Grocery.
"SSA provides a greatly needed and desired option to students like myself on campus and introduces students to local urban farms such as Our School at Blair Grocery. In a time when people are so far removed from their food source, SSA is my way of bringing people together to form a larger supported community," Lisec said.
Sue Mennino, associate director of the department of sociology and Food and Food Justice in New Orleans professor, said that while the organization will not completely remedy the need for fresh produce, it will help to raise awareness about the issue.
"It is an important piece of the puzzle and will also continue to focus public interest on the continuing problem," Mennino said.
Loyola theatre sophomore Natalie Csintyan lives on campus and said she would jump at the opportunity to gain access to weekly supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to campus.
"On campus, there's no option for [fresh produce], so if there was a program that could do that, I would take full advantage of that," Csintyan said. "As a student living on campus, I would definitely put my money towards that instead of the OR or the C-Store. I'd rather put it towards that than anything else they have to offer right now."
Besides his personal lack of access to fresh produce, Millstein found inspiration for Student Supported Agriculture in the founder of Our School at Blair Grocery, Nat Turner.
"He has been working vigorously for years, with more patience and poise than I have seen out of any person in any profession, let alone a person in his position," Millstein said. "Turner paints a picture in the destitute Lower Ninth Ward of a greener, brighter future using his words, patience, and work ethic, which is equivalent to being in a junk yard and picturing a beautiful Miami Beach."
With Student Supported Agriculture, there is a chance that Loyola and Tulane students could gain much-needed access to fresh produce while advocating for an important cause present in the city of New Orleans.
"SSA was born from the dream we all share - a safer, cleaner, just, and healthy world. It is that stepping stone to a brighter future for New Orleans," Millstein said.
Mary Graci can be contacted at megraci@loyno.edu 


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