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Monday, February 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Revive the Rice University Farmers Market

Photo courtesy Morgan Gage

By Morgan Gage     10/26/21 10:46pm

Nearly a year ago, I reported for the Thresher on how the Rice University Farmers Market was pivoting in the midst of COVID-19. As Rice readjusted to deal with the pandemic in spring 2020, the Farmers Market hosted on campus every Tuesday was one of the things that had to go. I don’t fault Rice for this; it was an uncertain time, and we needed to prioritize limiting the spread of COVID. However, the Farmers Market has not returned. I come with a simple request: Rice, bring the Farmers Market back.

Since then, we have largely returned to “normal.” We welcome visitors onto campus for tours and other events, spaces can now be rented out to off-campus organizations and, as long as we’re fully vaccinated, we don’t have to wear a mask indoors for gatherings of ten or less people. Other than being sure to grab a mask on my way out of my dorm and a short detour for weekly testing, my daily campus life is largely similar to what it was in early 2020. Beyond that, we know that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in outdoor settings such as the former Farmers Market is rare. 

Other farmers markets in the city of Houston have returned, including the new Rice Village Farmers Market close to campus, but there are no signs of our campus farmers market returning. While social media accounts of the Farmers Market remain, the latest post from both their Facebook and Instagram was from July 2020. If you try to visit their former website (farmersmarket.rice.edu), you’ll be redirected to Rice Dining with no mention of the former Farmers Market. Did COVID-19 just allow it to die a quiet death? God, I hope not. 

After all, produce is a vital part of a healthy diet, and the Farmers Market gave a chance for students to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables without leaving campus. While the Rice Village Farmers Market is walking distance from campus, it is not a suitable substitute for the former Rice Farmers Market which offered students the chance to select, purchase and potentially prepare fresh food. The on-campus Farmers Market allowed students to use their Tetra to make purchases from vendors, incentivizing students to support Houston-area farmers and other sellers. For on-campus low-income students, this provided a way to shop for fresh produce and other freshly-made food while using Tetra included in the dining plan required for all on-campus students.

Farmers markets also promote environmentally friendly practices. On average, food travels over 1,000 miles from the point of production to local stores. Locally and regionally sourced produce requires less fossil fuels and wasteful packaging than food products shipped across the country. Additionally, many farmers selling for farmers markets limit the amount of waste and pollution that they create in comparison to farms owned by larger corporations. 

Besides its benefit for students and the environment, the Farmers Market represented the relationship between Rice and the larger Houston community. It was a way for us to provide space and support for local farmers through a mutually beneficial relationship — they provide us with food, and our purchases give financial support to their business and families, bolstering the local economy. When I interviewed Ileya Grosman in 2020, the Rice Farmers Market manager, she said, “I was checking in with the vendors, particularly the farmers, because to me the farmers are the priority. That’s how the farmers market was really born, to support local culture in a sustainable fashion.” 

At the time, Grosman mentioned that community members would visit the Farmers Market; it was a public venue after all. The Rice Farmers Market benefits the lives of more than just our student body. It is a vital connection between us and the Houston area: a way to support local farmers, invite the local community onto campus and move towards sustainable local food-buying practices.  

And honestly? I just want to walk through the Farmers Market on a crisp autumn day and buy locally sourced food. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon and something to look forward to at the end of a long day of classes. So, Rice, let’s bring the Farmers Market back. It benefits us all. 

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