Most four year colleges share many of the same features – dorm rooms, lecture halls, gymnasiums, and cafeterias. But how about a college with a student operated farmers market like the one at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO?
College of the Ozarks is a unique institution where students from the U.S. and abroad have the opportunity to graduate debt free by working off their tuition at various work stations around the campus. Work stations range from landscaping to clerical work to processing milk in the on-campus dairy, with just about everything in between, including the newly introduced farmers market. The farmers market team is composed of six students during the summer work program and eight in the fall, along with their work station supervisor, Eric Bright. “We’ve had really positive feedback, and it’s good public relations for the college,” said Bright of the new work station. Locals and tourists alike enjoy frequenting the unique farmers market and supporting the school – many customers return every week.
The farmers market is held on Fridays; all of the products sold are student raised, grown or made. The proceeds from the market circulate back into the college’s general fund and go towards supporting the college’s debt free mission. All of the produce is grown by the students in the college on-campus garden – the garden duties are shared between the landscaping department and the farmers market workers. Everything from peppers to cucumbers to green beans graces the tables at the farmers market. Green beans have been the number one summer seller at the market, with tomatoes coming in at a close second. All of the meats and the dairy products come from animals that are raised and/or processed by the school’s agriculture department. “Meats sell very good,” Bright observed. Other products include potted plants from the campus greenhouse, homemade fruitcakes, jams and jellies from the Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen, and handmade baskets and rugs from the student crafters at Edwards Mill.
Thursdays are harvest and set-up for the farmers market team – the students harvest, wash and grade the produce from the garden (which varies based on the season), and set up the tables, display stations, registers and scales inside the College of the Ozarks sale barn. The indoor facility allows the students to hold the market even during inclement weather. Pre-market planning meetings are also held on Thursdays; during the meetings, the students discuss with their supervisor the logistics of the market and how to continue improving sales. A similar meeting is held post-market as well. These meeting encourage student feedback and good supervisor/student relationships, Bright said. He also noted that students in this work station have the opportunity to learn customer relation skills and important marketing techniques, such as displaying merchandise in the most visually appealing way possible.
But more than just customer service and sales lessons come into play here at the College of the Ozarks farmers market – students are also learning the value of supporting their community and knowing exactly where their food comes from – and that is one of the most important lessons of all.