As the bright-orange sun descended into Wednesday's evening sky, volunteers at the Forest Street Phoenix Park Community Garden shoveled steaming compost into wheelbarrows.
The heat from their compost and the day’s thick humidity was evidenced by beads of sweat they wiped from their brows as they worked. Their serene workspace is just off downtown’s main drag, but it feels worlds away.
Across town on the same evening, UW-Eau Claire’s campus was winding down from a bustling day of hoards of students, backpacks in tow, who attended the first day of the new school year.
The two settings, two miles apart, couldn’t feel more different. But a group called Progressive Students and Alumni (PSA), a campus organization, is working to bridge the gap between campus and community.
The group rolled out its latest initiative Thursday in the form of the first-ever UW-Eau Claire Centennial Campus Market, a farmers market on campus that aims to make local products more accessible to students, staff and faculty, PSA summer intern Marni Kaldjian said.
The inaugural market took place at 7 a.m. to noon Thursday on the south side of the campus’ newest building, Centennial Hall. It will continue weekly until Oct. 15.
Nestled under an overhang, three community groups sold products to students and others. Volunteers from the Forest Street garden offered an array of freshly harvested produce; downtown art shop Tangled Up In Hue sold shirts, postcards, necklaces and other products; Water Street Deli and Grocery made chips and hummus available for purchase.
“We are starting really small to see how it goes over, but we have room to grow,” Kaldjian said, noting if the market is well received by the campus community, it will return in the spring.
By 9:30 a.m., Kaldjian said some students had stopped by, and she was hopeful more would follow suit.
“The point we’re making by bringing it straight to campus is (fresh food) isn’t always accessible to students, and when it’s not in front of your face, you don’t really realize it’s there and it’s an option,” Kaldjian said. “I think it’s harder for students to get over to the downtown farmers market.”
Ian Lexen, a UW-Eau Claire junior, stopped by the market on a whim and went home with some onions.
“I really like this,” Lexen said. “It’s different, and I’d definitely come back.”
Tangled Up In Hue co-owner Jamie Kyser said she’s happy to have her store involved in a campus initiative and to advertise the business to students.
Quentin Emole of Water Street Deli and Grocery echoed Kyser’s remarks, noting he hopes being at the university leads to more students coming down to the eatery.