Within the Kennedy Drive complex Wednesday afternoon, a crowd of 30 people clutching shopping bags and paper vouchers descended upon the selection of fresh produce.
It was a dance between the Farm at Stonehill workers managing the mobile farm stand and the residents, as both groups juggled language barriers and spending limits. The once-a-week mobile market, alternating locations every week in Brockton between Kennedy Drive and the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center (63 Main St.), boasted an array of fruits and vegetables, with prices all less than $2 each.
The produce was all fresh, grown and harvested by student farmers and community volunteers at Stonehill College’s campus farm just off Route 138 in Easton. along with produce from other local farms not grown at Stonehill. Entering its ninth season, the Farm at Stonehill was just an empty field when Farm Director Bridget Lawrence-Meigs was hired by the college to start the campus farm. Nearly a decade later, the farm produces 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of produce a year, much of it donated to community organizations or sold at low prices at the mobile market.
“It’s more than just an exchange of vegetables,” Lawrence-Meigs said. “It’s an exchange of real community and I’m happy that the students have that experience there.”
At the farm, workers grow produce such as corn, beans, leeks, peas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, squash, garlic, eggplant, cucumbers, strawberries, herbs, pumpkins, kale, cabbage, zucchini and onions, as well as flowers.
Towards the entrance of the farm, Lawrence-Meigs pointed out a small plot commonly referred to as “the three sisters” due to how the three crops growing there – corn, beans and squash – interact to help each other grow. The corn provides a structure for the beans to grow upwards, she explained, while the beans have bacteria in their roots that absorb nitrogen in the air and infuse it into the soil to help the plants grow. The squash, in turn, has large leaves that keep weeds from growing, she said.
“How we grow here is trying to be cognizant of how it affects the environment around it,” she said.
The farm itself is much like “the three sisters.” Lawrence-Meigs said it benefits from members of the community that help to take care of it and in turn, the farm takes care of the community through providing fresh produce.
“This farm is an acre and a half, but it’s much more than that,” she said. “It’s the trees around, the streets around, the people around. Everything that interacts with the farm is a part of it.”
The theoretical “roots” of the farm spread past campus and touch the surrounding farms in Easton, such as Langwater Farm and Copper Kettle Farm, that have them to grow, Lawrence-Meigs said. The farm’s reach extends all the way into inner-city Brockton with the produce donations, the mobile market and seedling donations to the city’s community gardens.
Throughout the week, they donate the produce they harvest to local organizations including the Easton Food Pantry, My Brother’s Keeper in Easton, Father Bill’s and MainSpring in Brockton, the Old Colony YMCA in Brockton and the Evelyn House in Stoughton. They run the mobile market every Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. that runs from mid-June to Nov. 6, where they accept coupons from the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and vouchers from the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center.
On Tuesday, summer workers spent the morning harvesting potatoes in one of the plots with soil-coated hands. They were also on-hand at the mobile market Wednesday, helping customers to pick out what they’d like to purchase without going over their budget.
The mobile market provides a sense of dignity to market visitors, assistant farm manager Celia Dolan, 22, said, as they get to know where their food is coming from and can pick what they want to buy.
“There’s more than one way to make a connection with people, other than just talking to them,” Dolan said. “Food is like a universal language.”
The customers get fresh produce at low prices, said Natalie McDonough, 21, while the students get to learn bits of new languages and about new cultures.
“You get to see the people who are going to eat your food,” said Cassie Pavain, 19.
“You get to know them because they come back every week,” McDonough added. “It makes it so it’s more personal.”
Stonehill is just one player in a larger, growing movement of college farms, Lawrence-Meigs explained. In February 2018, Stonehill College hosted a one-day college farmers summit that gathered people from more than 30 other college farms to share information and connect. She noted that they’re working to prepare for a second summit to be hosted at the college next February, with a theme centering around what nourishes the farms.
“I like to think of the farm as this living organism,” she said. “The reason it thrives is why student volunteers and faculty come to the farm and use it as a classroom.”
With the installation of solar panels, the farm basically operates off-the-grid, Lawrence-Meigs said. The two hoop houses at the farm enable them to target certain crops to be harvested sooner and extend the growing season while protecting them from disease. Bees on campus pollinate flowers, which are sold in bouquets, and produce honey that is also sold. They have a curing station to dry produce to preserve it for longer, compost the food waste and set up their watering system to reduce wasting water.
While the farm won’t solve the issue of hunger in the city, Lawrence-Meigs said, it does help, and it also helps to spread awareness around the larger issue of food insecurity and access.
“There’s this physical thing we’re doing, but there’s this trying to teach our students and anyone who interacts with the farm that everyone can play a role,” she said. “No matter what your passion is, you can play a role in making food access better.”