Basket case

A new program coordinated by Students for an Environmentally Active Campus is helping bring locally grown produce from the fields outside of Milwaukee to Marquette. At the same time, it's doing its part to cut down on pollution and enrich the diets of the Marquette community.

The Market Basket Program makes baskets of fruit and vegetables available once a week to Marquette, according to Sarah Miles, co-director of the group.

The baskets typically contain nine to 15 different types of fruits and vegetables, and their content varies from week to week, according to Bill Hanson, speaking on behalf of Growing Power, the "urban farm" that orchestrates the Market Baskets program.

Although the contents of the baskets vary from week to week, participants can usually expect to find produce such as spinach, potatoes and apples.

"Sometimes you'll get something random like asparagus or cauliflower," Miles said.

The program has been growing in popularity.

"It seems to grow every week," she said. "Every week we have a few more baskets than we did the week before."

When the program began at the end of last semester, Growing Power was delivering only five or six baskets to Marquette each week. Now, it's delivering 20.

Although locally produced food isn't feasible this time of year, the program does create a consumer base for regional farmers.

"At this point in the year, most of the food comes from grocery suppliers," Miles said. "When stuff is growing in spring, summer and fall, then they'll get regionally grown produce."

"There aren't a lot of orange orchards here in March, so that's not local, but as soon as we get into the growing season, most food will come from our co-op," Hanson said, referring to Growing Power's network of 300 area growers.

The program is beneficial in many ways.

"The environmental reason (for doing the Market Baskets Program) is because Growing Power is an organization that develops sustainable farming methods and implements them in the community," Miles said.

Sustainable farming practices are those that extract as little stress on the land as possible and emphasize ecologically sound practices, such as organic growing.

The concept of regionally grown produce also eliminates some of the byproducts created by transporting, refrigerating and storing non-local produce.

"By supporting local farmers, we save on (automobile) emissions," Miles said.

Indeed, the program comes on the heels of a recent London City University study that blames food transportation and storage as major contributors of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

"Food miles by road are far more important than we had thought," the study says. "In environmental cost terms, buying local is even more important than buying green — although we would like people to do both."

The Market Baskets are also an easy way for students especially to access produce, since the baskets are available for pickup in the union, there is no long-distance traveling by bus or car.

"We also do it for the nutritional value, since students sometimes have trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables," Miles said.

A study published earlier this year by the United States Department of Agriculture echoed this statement. Getting proper nutrients is especially a problem for those living in urban areas, like Marquette students.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Mar. 17 2005.