From June 15 through Sep. 28, the Martin Tuchman School of Management (MTSM) will be holding a Community Supported Agriculture program for all students. It consists of a farm harvesting and providing fresh produce, namely vegetables, to selected sites, with NJIT being one of five this summer. Each student can choose to order a full share ($61.25 a week, $980 total) or a half share ($36.25 a week, $580 total). They can also donate part of an ordered share to the NJIT Food Pantry, which helps students who might have food insecurity. The produce will be harvested on the farm and brought to NJIT by the farmer every Tuesday, and students will pick up the vegetables on the same day, ensuring the freshest produce possible.
The farm that is part of this collaboration is owned and run by Margaret Noon. She started this CSA program in 2012, and has “been growing annual and perennial vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit on this historic farm that dates back to the 1600s” according to the School Lunch Farm website. The Certified Organic farm consists of 68 acres of land in Morris County, New Jersey. A hallmark of organic growing is healthy soil, which results in nutrient dense vegetables, fruits and herbs. There cannot be any fertilizers, which generate negative environmental effects, and there can only be minimal use of approved pesticides.
The organic certification is also a major highlight of this farm. It “requires a time commitment on the part of the farmer,” with audits that need to be regularly updated. Noon believes that “the discipline of documentation makes one a better farmer.” Dean of MTSM Oya Tukel came in contact with Noon by chance on a hiking trip. Being part of a CSA program while living in Ohio, Tukel saw this as an opportunity to start one at NJIT, especially considering that the university is located in an urban area and can also involve young individuals, students, to support a farm. Tukel also wants to “emphasize minority and underrepresented groups,” choosing to work with a female farmer who runs a small business.
Assistant Dean of MTSM Melodi Guilbault is managing the experiential learning part of the program. “MTSM wants to provide experiential opportunities where students apply the skills they are learning in classes to real life projects,” she said. “The students involved in the CSA project will apply marketing skills to help a small business succeed.”
In addition to gaining skills and experience in the business sector, students might be able to receive volunteer or service hours. “The Honors program is very big on projects like these, so I would like to reach out to honors students to see if they are interested in earning hours,” Tukel said. “If there are several students interested, we can even package it as an independent study topic program with which they can actually put this in a business context.” She included that there are various tasks the students would be involved with such as managing communications, running a website, working with customers, handling the delivery process, distributing the produce and possibly being in charge of a newsletter or blog relevant to the program.
Sustainability and healthy eating are also prominent factors that are considered while including this program. Guilbault stated that “Supporting the CSA demonstrates NJIT’s commitment to sustainability.” Amber Danku, assistant director for Commuter Life & Operations, is looking forward to having this program, as it supports “an NJ business, the School Lunch Farm, that values education just as much as it values nutritious food.”
“It’s really all about healthy food for the community,” Noon said. Her farm primarily has young people working there; she would like to see more small farms with later generations in charge because they are going to have to be the “next wave of farmers.” She has loved growing things ever since she was little. “When children grow their own food, they get pretty excited about eating it,” and it’s even better that it’s healthy food.
Ray Cassetta, Chair of the MTSM Board of Visitors, has donated a refrigerator for the NJIT Food Pantry to utilize as storage for produce that might be donated during the program.
Tukel said, “I think the important thing is that this is a win-win situation for everyone.” She, along with Guilbault and Danku, is very excited to introduce the program to this urban area. It benefits all of the people involved and promotes fresh and healthy eating. The program will also give a reason for the NJIT community to come together during the summer. With the disconnect among students, staff, and faculty due to the pandemic the organizers have hopes this will create sustainable action and a thriving community on campus.