A rooftop garden on Gerstenzang
The Farmers Club is a new group on campus that is striving to improve fresh food sustainability for the community
Although Brandeis’ campus is just beginning to thaw out from the harsh winter, some students have been planning for the onset of spring for months. Members of the newly chartered Farmers Club are in the midst of preparations for a new rooftop farm and farmer’s market.
The farm will be a 1,000 to 2,000-square foot installation on the red square roof of Gerstenzang Science Library. The Farmers Club will plant and grow produce such as kale, lettuce, arugula, peppers and tomatoes in milk crates filled with organic soil and compost.
The Farmers Club was founded at the beginning of this semester. Its goal is to install and operate the rooftop farm and coordinate a farmers market on Brandeis’ campus. They hope to begin planting by the end of the spring semester.
Farmers Club co-founder Annie Fortnow ’17 has been involved in planning the farm from the outset.
Fortnow says that the group put careful thought into choosing the roof of Gerstenzang. “We talked to a lot of Brandeis [staff] and they recommended different locations. We thought this would be a really good location because it’s really big so we can expand and have a lot of growth.”
The Farmers Club hopes to distribute the fresh food from the rooftop farm to the upcoming Brandeis Farmer’s Market, in the Faculty Club and to local food banks in order to connect students and members of the community through the source of their food.
Farmers Club co-founder Jay Feinstein ’17 explains the club’s choice to plant in milk crates. “The farm is going into milk crates so you could technically move the milk crates from one place to another. So if they are re-roofing ... then they can take the crates off,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein hopes that the farm will help bring students together. “This really would be a community effort, so every student can feel like they could be part of this farm, whether they’re working to pick vegetables, working to plant, or are eating from the farmer’s market or the dining halls,” he said.
In addition to the community-building aspect of the project, there are also environmental benefits to installing a rooftop farm. According to the Farmers Club website, rooftop green spaces can cut down on energy costs by insulating the roof of the building and helping reduce the heat island effect, a phenomenon that occurs when urban spaces trap more heat than rural areas.
The Farmers Club is partnering with Green City Growers—a Boston-based company that specializes in creating functional urban farms—who will provide guidance for the farm’s planning and maintenance.
According to their website, Green City Growers has assisted local communities with growing 110,000 pounds of organic produce “all in under two acres of growing space.” Farmers Club hopes to hire Green City Growers to help students maintain the farm during breaks.
The rooftop farm and farmer’s market are extensions of projects from Prof. Laura Goldin’s (ENVS) hands-on learning course, “Greening the Ivory Tower: Improving Sustainability of Brandeis and Community.”
The course aims to give students the tools to build sustainable communities. They use Brandeis as their lab, applying principles of sustainability to improve existing systems of operation. The Farmers Club emerged when Goldin’s students chose to expand upon their projects from class.
“Throughout the semester, students are learning how the campus operates now, as well as innovative alternatives and models for rethinking how we operate,” Goldin writes in an email to the Justice.
During each semester the “Greening” course is offered, students formulate initiatives that enhance the Brandeis and Waltham communities. Past projects include DeisBikes, the on-campus bicycle-sharing program, and the Patchwork Garden, which is the raised-bed organic garden.
The Farmers Club will combine two of the initiatives that emerged from the fall 2014 class—the rooftop farm and the farmer’s market.
The Brandeis Farmer’s Market will be an event where students may buy local produce and goods from vendors and—in the next school year—from the rooftop garden.
Brandeis Farmer’s Market Manager Gerri Cohen ’18 was involved in merging the two “Greening” projects.
“We created the [Farmers Club] to join the two because it would be great if we could sell the produce that was grown on the rooftop garden at the farmer’s market, and we coined it ‘hyper-local,’” Cohen explained.
Although the rooftop garden will not be producing vegetables before the first farmer’s market, the Farmers Club hopes to begin selling their produce at the market next year when their produce is ready for harvest. Cohen hopes that this market will be a way to introduce students to local goods.
“In the fall, we are hoping to get more fresh produce so we can sell that at the market and just give students an opportunity to get fresh produce and make sustainable food an option here at Brandeis,” Cohen said.
The first Brandeis Farmer’s Market will take place on April 18 in the Gosman Athletic Center parking lot. There will be a variety of local fare from Waltham-area vendors. Market-goers should expect to see local treats such as bread, tea, honey and gluten-free baked goods, and enjoy performances from Brandeis’ a cappella groups.
After the market this semester, which will serve as a trial run, the Farmers Club hopes to schedule multiple markets to take place throughout the following school year.
Although still in its planning stage, the Farmers Club hopes to gain funding from the Brandeis Sustainability Fund to work toward their goal of planting this semester.
Fortnow is looking forward to seeing the project reach more students and expand over the next few years.
“I’m definitely looking forward to having the food be available to students … Seeing students enjoying those vegetables and see how great it is to have a local agriculture system near us is going to be really exciting,” Fortnow said.