I am currently compiling research about student gardens that sell their produce to the Bon Appétit café on campus. This is a trend that is becoming more and more prevalent around the country. By growing their own food and selling it to Bon Appétit, students are learning about sustainable and local agriculture and providing their campus with food that is, in many cases, grown right on the other side of the green! While doing my research, the unique initiative of one student garden really stuck out to me. I hope you are as touched by it as I was.
Jen Swanson and Katie Anderson (or Dragonfly and Chestnut as they are known at the Burning Kumquat student farm at Washington University in St. Louis) both studied abroad in eco-villages in India and Scotland, respectively. When they returned to school, they sat down to discuss their experiences with one another. After a few minutes, they realized that, though they had been on completely different continents, their experiences resulted in the same thought: they wanted to create a 5-day a week free urban summer farm camp on the Burning Kumquat garden plot. According to Camp Kumquat’s literature, it was created to invite, “a diverse group of 10-12 year old St. Louis youth to journey back to the land, or in this case, the garden. We explore healthy eating, discover the origins of our food, and reconnect with nature through garden games, documentaries, special guests, and hands-on creative projects.”
Prior to their experiences with Camp Kumquat, Jen and Katie had heard only great things about the relationship that had begun developing between the student garden and the Bon Appétit team at Washington University in St. Louis. They knew that the Burning Kumquat sold produce to Bon Appétit during the academic year, but they had no idea how much this developing relationship would benefit Camp Kumquat.
When Jen and Katie approached Bon Appétit, Nadeem Siddiqui, Bon Appétit’s resident district manager at Wash U, was so supportive of their project that he offered to donate lunches to all of the students in the camp. The camp is now in full bloom and, upon the request of Jen and Katie, Bon Appétit writes down information about where the food prepared for the campers was grown so that these 10-12 year olds can really experience and appreciate the feeling of eating “farm to fork.” Once a week, Nadeem and the Bon Appétit chefs use the produce grown by the campers themselves to make the lunches they donate right back to the camp, creating a truly closed-loop system.
And if this dynamic was not unique and amazing enough, Nadeem often stops by Camp Kumquat to interact with the campers and join in on the fun. In the picture provided, Nadeem is playing “Organic Iron Chef” with the campers, a game in which each camper may only use the produce harvested during that day to make a delicious dish. They are truly mastering their own version of Bon Appétit’s Eat Local Challenge! Nadeem and Camp Kumquatoffer a perfect example of how developing a relationship with Bon Appétit can truly take a student garden plot to the next level in educating the community and youth about local food and in helping to further its Farm to Fork program.
– Nina Merrill, Student Intern