Everyone should have access to healthy food.
That is the premise behind the student-driven Food Activists Revolution Meals organization, aka FARM, based on the University of South Florida campus. Since 2010, on the last Thursday monthly from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., excluding the summer, the group plays host to area farmers and community associations focused on promoting healthy lifestyles that include eating locally grown, nutritionally balanced and ecologically sound fruits and vegetables.
Colleen Mulcahay, a USF staff advisor for FARM and its seasonal on-campus farmers market, perused Sessums Mall during its most recent event. Close to a dozen vendors had set up shop with the intention of making it convenient for students, staff members and area residents to drop by and shop.
“It's primarily a way to connect USF students with the community farmers and educate people about what's in season,” she said.
Cole Turner, owner of Little Pond Farm in Bushnell, was a first-time vendor whose artful display of fresh produce appeared to draw shopper after shopper to his booth.
“It's the real deal,” said USF staff member Debbie Lawhon, who'd stopped by during her lunch break. She marveled at the freshness of items such as the butter crunch lettuce, chard kale, alfalfa sprouts and rapini flowers, which Turner noted add color and spice to most any meal.
“Organic is good and I like that I can quickly come out and pick up,” Lawhon said.
Fellow USF staffer Ken Rigelsen, who purchased some salad fixings from Turner, agreed.
“I try to eat healthy and it's got to be local,” he said.
USF students and FARM members Helen Bierko, director of communications, and Katie Miller, market and event coordinator, were also on hand to advocate the on-campus farmers market to man the Bearss Groves booth with fresh oranges and tangerines.
“This is a nice thing to have,” Bierko said. “I think it's a really great way of getting a source of real food and a great way to support local farmers' businesses.”
Miller said the group has attracted vendors and visitors mainly by word of mouth.
She especially likes that area garden clubs and community-garden aficionados have signed on.
“It's a real positive way for us to connect with a lot of community people and they have some awesome tips on growing things,” Miller said.
Travis Mallory, president of the Temple Terrace Community Garden, was among them.
“It's good to be a part of anything local that's related to gardening,” he said. “It helps us spread the word about community gardens.”
Natalia Dengler also was at the event representing the Tampa Eden Project, an Ybor City-based, Christian-centered nonprofit organization that involves promoting and installing community and urban gardens in low-income neighborhoods. The objective is to provide them with nutritious food.
“We're kind of out there making these community gardens happen,” she said.
Husband and wife duo Serge and Sarah Dhali, owners of Lifeglow Organic Farm in Hudson, were first-time participants. They displayed a variety of vegetables grown without synthetic chemicals.
“I love the beauty of pesticide-free gardens and the sense of the community getting to know their local farmers,” Michelle said.
Across the way was Debra Chatfield, who together with her husband, Richard, owns Lutz Nutz.
“We sell exceptional raw large fresh nuts and we mainly sell at farmers markets,” said Debra, as she touted packages of the company's Bodacious Blend of nuts and Awesome Oatz.
“It's refreshing to be here,” she said. “People talk a lot and they ask a lot of questions.”
For information, visit FARM's Facebook page at fb.com/farmusf.