Farm Fresh Produce Meets Students Fresh Ideas
Four days out of the semester, Cox Plaza, the courtyard outside of the Student Union, is buzzing with the hubbub of local farmers filling tent-canopied tables with farm fresh fruits and vegetables, gourmet hot sauces and homemade textiles and soaps. From an outsider's perspective, it would appear that this market is professionally organized and managed, however many are surprised when they discover that the Clemson Farm-Fresh Market is actually an entirely student-run production.
The Clemson Farm-Fresh Market began with the inspiration of a student named Ashley Adams, who held a passionate interest in starting a farmers market to serve Clemson's campus. Adams, who grew up on a farm, wanted to share the benefits of her experience with fellow students. Adams co-authored a grant with the help of Student Services within the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Science, and was awarded funding from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. With this grant, the farmers market began.
Since 2009, the market has developed into a Creative Inquiry project, employing the innovative ideas and critical thinking skills of students in order to expand its reach and increase its presence on campus. Like all Creative Inquiry projects, the Clemson Farm-Fresh Market initiative has a faculty mentor who oversees the course. Dr. Angela Fraser of the food, nutrition, and packaging science department explains that the focus of this program is student responsibility.
"Nicole Schutte is the student market manager," Fraser said. "I think that needs to be emphasized. I'm the faculty member who comes in and kind of solves problems as needed, but this is truly a student-run project and Nicole is the lead of the project."
For the past two years, Schutte has led the Clemson Farm- Fresh Market in growth and transformation, passionately designating student tasks while balancing her own responsibilities. Student members of the Creative Inquiry have different roles, including vendor coordination and recruitment. The Creative Inquiry also has a media team which is responsible for Facebook and Twitter promotions. The Creative Inquiry places specific focus on food safety, ensuring that all vendors are in compliance with food safety regulations. Schutte manages the execution of these tasks.
"I oversee all of that, and try to stress to everyone that is on the team that for the vendors, this is their livelihood," Schutte said. "They're bringing their business to Clemson and providing a service to us, and they're also trying to make money, so we need to do everything that we can to help them and everything that we said we were going to do."
The Clemson Farm-Fresh Market has provided the students involved with valuable learning experiences, not only in the classroom through planning for the market, but with realworld business experience.
"I feel like I've gained a lot of experience with what it takes to actually run a business," Schutte said. "It's a lot of keeping other people in the Creative Inquiry happy, keeping the vendors happy, marketing and advertising. There's so much more that goes into it than I ever thought would have when I went to the market the first time as a customer. I really think it's like running a mini-business."
This student business has been extremely well-received by the Clemson community and continues to grow each year. Each market day of the semester, students turn out in crowds to enjoy the vendors who visit campus to sell their products. Vendors and students alike enjoy the presence of the market, which gives students an opportunity to learn about the origins of their food. While the market currently only operates four times a semester due to limited funding, Schutte has big dreams for its future expansion.
"My 'dream big vision' would be that there would be a permanent structure for the Farmers' Market somewhere on campus," Schutte said. "I think that we're such an agricultural school that it would be really neat if we had something like that. A permanent structure would make it easier to host more frequent markets, and markets during the summer for the community when not as many students are around."
The Clemson Farm-Fresh Market Creative Inquiry has become an example of the drive Clemson students have to turn a class into an actual business venture. Currently, the Farm-Fresh Market is open during the months of September, October and April. For the Creative Inquiry team, expansion of the market to a permanent structure benefiting Clemson's campus is not just a dream, but a realistic plan for the future.