Future of produce delivery service Farm-to-Work at UT-Austin to be decided Thursday

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Photo Credit: Rocky Higine | Daily Texan Staff

A meeting this Thursday between a student health organization and a local produce distributor will determine the fate of a weekly UT program which provides produce to the UT community.

Acccording to their website, Sustainable Food Center is a nonprofit group based in Central Texas that focuses on local food systems and the health of local residents. The nonprofit has delivered locally-grown produce for more than ten years as part of the Farm-to-Work program to 40 locations across Austin, including the University, acccording to their website. 

Sergio Torres, the center’s farm direct coordinator, said the center recently decided to turn over ownership of the Farm-to-Work program to Farmhouse Deliveries, which will take over the program fully on Oct. 14. He said UT’s HealthPoint Wellness, which ran UT’s Farm-to-Work program for six years, will meet with the center on Thursday to decide whether UT will continue the program once the ownership changes.

Torres said the decision came after an internal analysis revealed the center does not have the capacity to continue making significant profits for the farmers they partner with. Farmhouse Deliveries has more storage and delivery capacity to continue the operation and cater to the customers whose dietary habits are outside of just produce, Torres said.

“We have seen there is a downward trend in our sales for the past few years,” Torres said. “It is very difficult for folks to eat seasonal. They wanted to have more fruits, more things they were familiar with, in their baskets. By making it a little more customer centric, (Farmhouse Deliveries) can appeal to those eating habits.”

 

HealthPoint Wellness manager Nosse Ovienmhada said the department coordinates Farm-to-Work by sending out forms to anyone on UT’s emailing list who can order a $22 box that includes a selection of available produce. Sustainable Food Center gathers the items in a basket, and the customers come to a designated pickup location on campus every Wednesday to collect their order, according to the website.

Ovienmhada said Farm-to-Work helps increase access to produce and prioritized health in the faculty’s busy schedules, but she had no comment on the future of the program at UT.

 When Farmhouse Deliveries takes over the program, Torres said the item selection will now include locally made grocery items such as honey, eggs, cereals and yogurt,
instead of just produce. 

Torres said Farmhouse Deliveries is committed to purchasing from local vendors and will continue to purchase from the local farmers with whom the center was previously doing business. 

“We wanted to be able to attract more customers so our farmers can make more profits,” Torres said. “The folks at Farmhouse Delivery do a great job at doing just that.”

 Anna-Maria Escherich, a project manager for the Department of Neuroscience, said she orders from Farm-to-Work and has volunteered to help distribute produce in North Campus since summer 2019. 

In her experience as a volunteer, Escherich said she saw the customers form a community and exchange recipes and cooking tips as they picked up their weekly baskets. She said the program is a valued part of campus for the UT community.

 “I feel very fortunate to have been able to volunteer,” Escherich said. “Farm-to-Work provides a great opportunity to support local farmers, try new things but also to talk to people.”