Veggie tales from the CUE Farm

BY HANNAH HARTZELL, STAFF REPORTER

There’s a small but powerful operation taking place on the edge of the Butler bubble.

Not everyone knows about the Center for Urban Ecology Farm, but everyone certainly experiences the fruits of its labor in the dining halls. Some of the farm’s produce is sold to the dining halls of Butler University.

And the farm is bursting the bubble.  It is selling food to local restaurants and donating food to a local food pantry.

Students, faculty and CUE staff started the farm in 2010.  According to farm manager Tim Dorsey, the farm is currently working with a grant CUE received from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust in 2011.

“We have about a year’s worth of funding remaining and are working toward making the farm as self-sustaining as possible through its various sales outlets,” Dorsey said.

Since its start, the CUE Farm has already made strides toward that goal.  It has grown more than three times in size and has expanded its produce options and number of patrons since it began.

Dorsey began farming about 12 years ago.  His small gardens rapidly expanded until they were too big for just one yard.  That’s when Dorsey began selling his produce to others.

“During those years, my interests turned toward sustainability and agriculture’s role therein,” Dorsey said, “and I planned to work toward becoming a market grower.”

When the Center for Urban Ecology needed a farm manager for its new project, Dorsey got the job.

“I aim to grow a really wide variety of vegetables and fruit at the farm,” Dorsey said.

For consumers, this means new produce to try,  including a great range of carrots, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelons.

The farm also sells less widely known produce, such as Asian greens, broccoli raab, herbs and lemon cucumber.  All of the food on the farm is organically grown, using sustainable growing practices.

Butler students are involved throughout the growing and selling processes.  Some of the CUE interns assist in the weekly farm work, while others help local middle schools implement their own gardening projects, using grant funds raised by CUE.  Students can also volunteer on the farm.

The farm’s crops are made available to Butler students and the public during a weekly farmer’s market on Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. The market will run until the conclusion of the growing season.

“We can offer the freshest possible produce this way and give folks a chance to visit the farm,” Dorsey said.  “(It allows the consumer to) see what’s new and really connect with where their food is grown.”

Dorsey said the student response has been exciting, as it has led to an increase in traffic at the produce stand.  “I think a lot of Butler students really value supporting local farming,” Dorsey said, “and it doesn’t get more local than this.”

Freshman Jennifer Shrock said the produce’s freshness was one reason she is likely to return to the stand.

“I was surprised with how many different fruits and vegetables they had available,” Shrock said.  “The people were very friendly, and the prices were reasonable for the quality of food.”

CUE Farm produce also makes its way into the community through the Community Supported Agriculture program.  The program is a helpful source of revenue for small farms.

Members pay a subscription fee at the start of the season and receive a case of produce every week for 21 weeks.

“The members provide much of the working capital for the farm early in the season, then pick up a share of the produce from early-June to late-Oct.,” Dorsey said.

For community member Cliona Kennedy, a big difference exsists between the CUE Farm produce and the produce she bought before she joined the CSA last year.

“It’s very good,” Kennedy said.  “You get a great variety and it is very fresh.”  She said her family looks forward to receiving its weekly produce.

Much of what is not bought up by students and local residents is sold to area restaurants.

Dorsey said the farm’s best customer is Napolese, but they also sell to Recess, The Good Earth Natural Food Co., Black Market, Natural Born Juicers and Bluebeard.

The CUE Farm has sold to other businesses in the past.

Dorsey said, the farm is selling about everything it can grow to current customers.   Any food left over is donated to the St. Thomas Food Pantry, located at 46th and Illinois streets.

“We will continue to try to achieve economic sustainability within the next couple of years and continue to strive to conserve and improve the land we’re on,” Dorsey said.

“In (a) bigger sense, the Center for Urban Ecology hopes the farm plays a role in a conversation about the potential to increase opportunities for local food production.”

While it has humble orgins, the farm has already educated many students and fed many in the community.

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