Farm to Family Market: A College and Community Connection

Two Carleton students spend their summer as food access interns at the Northfield Community Action Center.

31 August 2021 Posted In:
Milligan and Emlen at the Farm to Family Market

The sun is shining and a cool breeze breaks the humidity as people start to arrive at the new Farm to Family Market just a few miles from campus. The inaugural market was started in early July by the Northfield Community Action Center (CAC), helping serve the local community and find solutions for food inequality. 

Carleton students, Tali Emlen ’22 and Colleen Milligan ‘22, are checking people in and restocking the rainbow of food on the tables. Kale, strawberries, melons–the bounty of summer produce is free for all residents in need. 

“It’s a new program this summer,” said Milligan, who, along with Emlen, is serving as a food access intern for the CAC this summer. “They’ve always had the food pantry at the CAC, but they were looking to expand the program because the produce hour at the food shelf does so well. So, with the help of all the farms around here, they decided to expand it into a full farmers market.”

The market features fresh fruits and vegetables every Friday in September from 3:00-5:00 p.m., at the former Greenvale school, with food donated by local retailers and bought from three local CSA farms. A fall food shelf, will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays during community school time at the Northfield Community Education Center.

“Every market, we’re troubleshooting for the next one,” Milligan said. “What’s been successful? What hasn’t? Then, we tell the farmers, and they just know what to do. Every week it gets easier to figure out what we need at the next market, and it’s so fun to talk with the farmers.”

The Farm to Family Market isn’t just an internship for the two seniors, but rather a collection of connections between the college and the community. 

"Take what you will use." Farm to Family sign.

“They have been wonderful to work with,” Dawn Wegscheid, food access program manager at the CAC, said. “They have helped us with grant writing, creative ideas and it’s just become such an organic partnership.”

“We like to tell this story because it weaves in and out of student work, grant writing, faculty courses and academic work, and the community,” said Erica Zweifel, assistant director for community impact with Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE). “It shows how we all work together to make these things happen.”

The liberal arts in action 

It all started with a stats class. Students in in Adam Loy’s Statistical Consulting class—an Academic Civic Engagement Course—took data from the CAC to better help serve the community. 

“ACE courses help start and support these community initiates,” Loy, assistant professor of statistics, said. “Our students looked at what types of services were being used the most and where those services were most needed in Northfield. Are they meeting the need? Are there areas of increased need? One of our students even created heat maps to highlight the areas using the food shelf and other services.”

After their research and statistical analysis, the students found a pocket of food insecurity in the northwest section of Northfield. That data helped the CAC create a grant proposal for a satellite food shelf, located at the former Greenvale Park Elementary School site, as part of the Northfield Community Education Center. 

“I work for the CCCE during the year,” Emlen said. “I helped out a little bit with the grant writing for this, and it’s such a great opportunity for a more equitable food source for everyone. This internship has been a nice extension of working at the CCCE, and it’s bridging a lot of different activities I’ve done at Carleton.”

Emlen ready to register people at the farm to family market

The CCCE funds the two summer internships, and Carleton’s Food Recovery Network and the Carleton Student Farm will help continue this work in the fall. In addition to food, every market features community partners and programs to serve the community in more ways than one. 

Beyond Carleton

Loy hopes his class helps sustain these programs in the community, as well as the relationship between the community and the College, all while giving students experience they can take beyond the classroom and their time at Carleton. 

“The students who worked on this project really realized they could use their data and statistical skills in a different way,” Loy said. “They were thinking grad school or major corporations, but soon figured out they could provide a lot of value to NGOs and community members.”

“Just this one small project is so impactful for our community,” Wegscheid said. “You don’t have to be a ‘townie’ to do the work and be a good neighbor and to make sure everyone is taken care of. And the students really understand that.”

“When you’ve had a part in giving back to the community,” Zweifel said, “and delivered thousands of pounds of food to the community, getting up at 7:30 a.m. six days a week, seeing that impact—they’re hooked. They love it.”

“My biggest takeaway,” Emlen said, “is that I’m thinking more about food systems and different ways of engaging whole communities in solving these issues. I’ve been thinking a lot about that.”

Milligan and Emlen at the farm to family market

“Tali and I want to stress that anyone experiencing food insecurity, including college students, can use the resources at the CAC,” Milligan said. The Farm to Family Market will be running until Oct. 29, and the regular food shelf at the CAC is always happening.”

Learn more about the Northfield CAC and Carleton’s Food Network and Student Farm