MU Earth Day farmers market a campus hit

Thursday, April 23, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Perhaps it was the glorious sunshine, mouth-watering smell of grilled hamburgers wafting in the air or twang of country music in the background.

Whatever the reason, students and other campus visitors turned out in droves Wednesday to MU's first Earth Day farmers market and lapped up most of the locally produced goods.

The three-hour market at Lowry Mall had not even ended before vendors began wondering aloud when such an event would be held on campus again.

Mark Mahnken of Missouri Legacy Beef said he sold 400 burgers.

“It's a beautiful day, and you can't ignore the smell of a good barbecue,” Mahnken said of the first farmers market on campus. “Hopefully, it won't be the last.”

Ken Muno of Goatsbeard Farm Cheese said he sold enough cheese — nearly 50 pounds — to “make it worth my while to be here.”

Though it's early in the year for a lot of fresh produce, there was still a variety of goods available, including eggs, granola bars and baked goods. There were also strawberries, which sold out early, and tomato plants.

MU Wellness Resource Center coordinator Julie Tobias, whose department co-sponsored the event with Healthy For Life, said the organizations would try to do the event as often as possible due to the strong support.

“We must have had thousands walking through,” Tobias said. “People are closing down early because everything is selling out."

She said she would like to see the market held when there's more seasonal food available and greater student traffic on campus.

The main idea behind holding the market was to let the campus community know about the farmers markets in Columbia and the largely organic food they sell, Tobias said.

“There are lots of informational tables, both from the campus and from the community, with brochures on keeping yourself and the environment healthy,” she said.

Columbia Farmers' Market Manager Caroline Todd and Boone County Farmers Market President Don Waterman were both excited by the success of the event.

“I think it's awesome," Todd said. "It's been a good day and a good event. I'm glad they organized it and hope it's done next year.”

She added that everything sold at the market was produced within 55 miles of Columbia, compared to the food sold in a grocery store that comes, on average, from a 1,500 mile radius.

Waterman said local growers tend to use fewer chemicals and the food involves less transportation.

“It stands to reason that if less transportation is involved, it's more environmentally friendly,” he said.

Some of the students passing through were surprised to hear the market was held in conjunction with Earth Day.

MU freshman Raven Osborn initially guessed the event had something to do with “keeping Columbia's economy out of the hole the rest of the country is in.”

Osborn was surprised to learn it was an Earth Day celebration. “I would never have guessed that just walking through. I thought it would be green everywhere. A banner would have helped,” she said.

Raeshel Crawford said she would have liked to see more environment-related booths.

“I would have liked more things about recycling, energy and going green,” she said.

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