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Monday, January 25, 2021

Nothing beets locally grown

If a warm bowl of soup is good for the proverbial soul, students can now get more holistic care through additional organic offerings.

The Art department on Monday increased its outreach beyond the Art Soup service with a free farmers market. Its purpose is to address and assist food insecure students, according to art professor Monika Ramirez Wee.

“We’re averaging between 40-60 students who come and get the soup or produce. We went through the first slow cookers in just 15 minutes,’’ Wee said.

Wee is the founder of the Art Soup and Free Farmers Market Idea.

“We unofficially started last semester but now I’m trying to actively publicize it,’’ Wee said.

The Art Soup planted the seed of the actions that can be done to help out Pierce students.

“I’ve noticed, the day the Roundup ran the story about Art Soup, there was an editorial where someone wrote in, ‘Why don’t we have a farmers market on campus?’’’ Wee said.

Brahma Food Pantry didn’t have the capability to take the fresh produce, but when they heard about Art Soup, which started out very small between Wee and the faculty, they committed to provide Wee with all the produce and she was the one to get it out.  

“When we make Art Soup, we send our excess products down to the Brahma Pantry and that just gave me an idea, ‘why don’t we put the produce out because we don’t use all of it in the soup,’’’ Wee said.

Thanks to the Foodforward organization, Wee doesn’t only provide students with a warm meal, but they are also able to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables.

Foodforward is a non-profit organization that fights hunger and prevents food waste by helping people in need and rescuing the excess produce. 

They work with public orchards and LA farmers markets who have excess produce or food. Instead of it going to landfill or be thrown out, they try to divert it to people who need it.

As stated by Foodforward “According to the NRDC, up to 40% of food in the United States is wasted. At the same time, 1 in 9 Californians lacks adequate access to food.”

Wee said Foodforward originally started by the artist Rick Nahmias in Los Angeles.

“It was started to address the fact that a lot of people have fruit trees in their backyards and in particular, the elderly are not able to go pick their harvest,’’ Wee said.

According to Foodforward, “In the last nine years, Food Forward has rescued over 60 million pounds (240 million servings) of fresh local produce.”

Wee doesn’t know what glean they’re going to get each time, but it’s usually the reflection of whatever is currently in season for the local farmers. 

Art Soup and Free Farmers Market are offered on Mondays or Tuesdays because of the Food Service Codes and Regulations.

 “If the food is coming from the market on Saturday, we have to put it out by so many days after it has been picked up from the market,’’ Wee said.

Wee’s involvement is highly appreciated by a lot of students and she puts her heart into it.

“I’ve actually rearranged my teaching schedule in my department such that I can be available to do Farmers Market and Art Soup, so it has changed my life,’’ Wee said.

With busy student lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, if students want to help, they can get on the list and drive to Calabasas Farmers Market on Saturday afternoon to transport the glean to Pierce.

There are currently two volunteer students and Wee is open for more.

Ronald Lu is a student worker who is Wee’s right hand.

“I help to chop the vegetables, prepare the tables and wash the dishes,’’ Lu said.

 Lu is very involved in the process. He said it’s a great cause.

‘’Students can eat now or get produce that they can eat at home or later,’’ Lu said.

Wee said they are limited on how much they can provide to students by the available space.

“Basically we can provide more If we had more storage space but we don’t. We need a bigger fridge because we can’t fit it all,” Wee said.

Although the average of 5-8 boxes of glean Pierce receives is more than enough, it takes way more products to cook a soup. One of the things that Wee always needs or that she’s looking for is an outside organization to donate bread and very basic items like canned beans, oil or garlic salts.

“Our biggest limitation is that we don’t have bags. I asked for funding from ASO and I didn’t get it,’’ Wee said.

Eddie Sanchez, a major in manufacturing system engineering, said he enjoys the soup that Wee offers to students.

“It’s a good way to use things we’re not using. Make the most of everything and help people who need it,’’ Sanchez said.

This is the first semester for student Christy Caceres and she heard about Art Soup last Monday. She said she heard there is a homeless issue on campus.

“I think it’s really smart. It’s a nice and generous idea for teachers to do that,’’ Caceres said.

Wee is planning on continuing the Farmers Market over the next semesters. Anybody who’s interested in volunteering can contact Wee for more information about the organization.

‘’This is supposed to be to help our students. Anybody can come and get it,” Wee said.

The Free Farmers Market is offered every Monday 11.30 a.m.-1.30 p.m. on the Art Hill.

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