By Kate Dempsey
Brooklyn College’s Auxiliary Enterprise Committee (AEC), in conjunction with representatives from the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), has acquired two “Farmer’s Fridge” vending machines for the college following a demand for more abundant, healthier meal options on campus.
The initiative, which began in the spring 2023 semester, was pitched as an alternative to the incomplete construction and lack of food in Boylan Hall’s cafeteria, a project that has faced setbacks for years towards its completion.
“The construction in the cafeteria (the ANSUL [fire suppression] system) has gone on much longer than it should and new vendors cannot be brought in until it’s finished due to fire safety protocol,” said Carrie Ebbin, president of USG and a representative on the AEC committee. “When the construction is done and the cafeteria is up to safety standards, we hope that the college will be able to bring in different vendors to improve our food options on campus.”
One crucial factor for the committee to acquire the machines was the price to sustain them month after month. The agreement reached with Farmer’s Fridge was that if $2,300 sales were not made every month, the AEC would have to cover any shortfalls; if $2,300 is sold every month, the machines become free of cost to the college. The AEC voted unanimously to take this risk.
Farmer’s Fridge does not look like your average vending machine: they contain salads, pasta bowls, sandwiches, and more packaged in bright green recyclable containers. Farmer’s Fresh business model is built on “fresh, convenient meals,” partnering with local suppliers to bring new food every morning to the machines. For students in a hurry to grab something to eat, it is an alternative to leaving campus completely. The two machines are located in the West Quad building and the Library Cafe.
“USG is fully committed to doing everything we can to increase the options people have on campus,” said Noam Abrahams, treasurer of USG. “We love the community around campus, but students shouldn’t need to leave just to grab food.”
The demand for healthier options on campus began with CUNY’S Campaign for Healthy Food (CHeF) in the spring, which began advocating for CUNY-wide alternatives to partnerships made with companies selling unhealthy sodas and snacks, the biggest being the conglomerate Coca-Cola. The campaign called for an end to the contract, which was instead replaced with a 10-year, $21 million contract with the conglomerate Pepsi that will exclusively sell its products in all CUNY vending machines.
“Their proposal offered a variety of products and a level of support and a total royalty number that was superior,” said CUNY spokesperson Michael Arena for The New York Times. “There was a sense that there were certain areas that were ripe for leveraging the buying power across the university.”
CUNY has cited that part of the money will go towards sustainability initiatives, allocating money to each of the colleges. To those working on the CHeF campaign, the decision to partner with these companies allows them to have a detrimental monopoly on products at the schools that are anything but sustainable.
“We’re not just encompassing like nutritional aspects, but also like how it affects sustainability,” Abeir Anasseri, a researcher for CHeF, told The Vanguard in March. The campaign noted that many of the products to be sold are made up of plastics that are difficult to recycle, potentially adding to already growing landfills. In addition, they noted that partnerships with companies like Pepsi take away support for locally-owned food options.
To continue its goal of providing more options to students while supporting local food suppliers, USG will be commencing a food truck project on Sept. 13, which will feature two food trucks. Students will then have the option to fill out a survey to share their thoughts on the project.
“The more students that stay on campus during downtime, the more vibrant and exciting student life will be on campus,” said Ebbin. “We have to do everything we can […] offering different food options on campus to make campus exciting and engaging for students to hang out and enjoy their time here.”