Students at the University of Waterloo have teamed up with UW Food Services to create the campus’ first ever market. The UW Farm Market made a commitment to bring a local market to the campus. The new market opened in September 2006 and boasts 100% local produce as well as other products from the area, sourced mainly from the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative.

UW Farm Market logo

The UW Farm Market is open to all students, staff, faculty and to the public. It follows other local initiatives like Foodlink Waterloo Region which promotes food localism. 

We’re bringing the fresh harvest of local farms, preserves and honeys made in Waterloo County together with fresh baked goods from our very own UW Village Bakery allowing students to purchase fresh, nutritious foods without leaving campus and at the same time reduce their ecological footprint. It’s another way UW is making a difference and students and staff have responded with enthusiasm.

In support of the environment, we are promoting a "Bring Your Own Bag" program for our market.

Farm Market and volunteers

When asked, “How would you describe the UW Farm Market in a sentence?” Lee Elkas, Director of UWFS shared that our market is about more than just the produce, reminding us to be cognizant of our own backyards. He says:

"The Farm Market is a community event that celebrates the spirit of our "farm to campus" culture in Food Services. For those that volunteer to make our market days successful and all that attend, we hope that there is a greater appreciation of the food grown and picked in our own "backyard" and the work to make this accessible to the campus community."


 The UW Farm Market first began as a collaborative effort between Food Services and students in the UW School of Environment in 2006. The idea was first unearthed at a Food Systems focus group hosted by the Region of Waterloo, where one of the founding student leaders, Darcy Higgins came up with the idea of a campus market. UWFS Director Lee Elkas then brought the idea to life after meeting with members of the Mennonite community who operated the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative (EPAC). 

 In  2006, EPAC was a very small produce auction where local farmers would bring their freshly harvested produce to sell in an auction setting to retailers or vendors at wholesale for resale.

  Rows of fresh fall produce line the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative (EPAC)

Just two years prior, the co-op was formed when beef prices were depleted following the outbreak of "mad cow disease" in Canadian cattle herds. During this time, many Mennonite farmers had to make the switch from cattle farming to horticulture. Shortly after, they developed the co-op to sell their goods for a fair price, hiring the talented Auctioneer Bill Horst to be their voice. By 2014, the co-op was selling about two million dollars of food a year to local distributors and institutions, such as the University of Waterloo.

Today, our partnership with EPAC still stands, providing us with the local farm fresh goods we need for running our annual Farm Market and feeding our students and staff. Making a comeback again this fall, the market was a hit bringing in over 1,200 students, staff, and faculty members.

The Process 

It takes many passionate and committed staff and student volunteers to run the UW Farm Market. Each year our team operates the non-profit market while UW Food Services handles purchasing and the short-distance shipment from the produce auction to our Waterloo campus. Any remaining produce not sold at the market is repurposed back into our kitchens for use in our dining hall menus at student residences.

UW Food Services Executive Chef Javier Alarco is a key player who helps make this process possible. In a recent interview, Alarco expressed his thoughts behind the event, detailing how his team of chefs use the produce beyond just the Farm Market:

 "We are very fortunate to have chefs and cooks that are culinary Red-Seal Certified in all of our units. Prior to purchasing produce for the UW Farm Market there is a thought process that revolves around what to buy so in the case of there being leftover produce, we can share the load between the three Villages (dining halls) and incorporate it back into the daily menu."

You can check out our full process here:<--break->

Standing up for Sustainability 

 The UW Farm Market is another way we are making a difference. Bringing the fresh harvest of local farms, preserves and honeys made in Waterloo together with fresh baked goods from our own UW Village Bakery, students can practice healthy and sustainable living at an affordable price. 

Our Farm Market follows other local initiatives like Foodlink Waterloo Region which promotes food localism and addresses the need for healthy and affordable options on campus. The UW Farm Market is a perfect example of a distinct sustainable fair-trade ecosystem—bearing purchases directly from the farmer who grows your fruits and vegetables!  At our market, approximately 75 to 80 cents on your dollar purchase goes directly to the farmer; the difference pays for the transportation cost and a commission to the auction house (EPAC).  We know the produce is FRESH. Mostly picked the day before auction or in some cases the morning of the auction.

We also promote sustainable living with our “Bring Your Own Bag” Program where we encourage everyone to bring a reusable bag or purchase one of our Fairetrade-certified UW Farm Market canvas bags made in Chatham, Ontario. Lastly, by hosting the event on campus, we also help students, staff, and faculty reduce their ecological footprint.<--break->

New Horizons: The Future of the UW Farm Market 

 In the beginning the UW Farm Market started out as a student-geared initiative to encourage healthy eating and sustainable living but quickly grew into so much more. So, what does the future look like for the UW Farm Market? 

There have been talks of moving the market outdoors on a central campus location and introducing a wider range of goods including deli meats and cheeses from local farms. In a recent interview with University of Waterloo Food Services Director Lee Elkas, he hinted at incorporating cooking demonstrations in the future as well as hosting guest vendors who could sell directly to students just as food service teams at University of British Columbia (UBC) and Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU, formerly Ryerson) have done in past years.

“The future of the UW Farm Market is strong.  It’s an important statement of the values we in the food business believe in; supporting local farmers and sharing these values with students who ultimately benefit with fresh, wholesome foods.”


The People Are Talking 

 In his e-book Food for City Building, Wayne Roberts—manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council for over 10 years—argues that the sustainable infrastructure surrounding our agricultural processes is necessary to build what he calls “food sovereignty”. In contrast to the present corporate food monopoly, food sovereignty refers to ethical and sustainable food systems where people who produce, distribute, and consume food also control the mechanisms and policies of food production and distribution (Food Secure Canada). 

Roberts expresses that EPAC is “a great example of what a community that has its act together can do to support local farmers and promote local food”. Without such institutions like the University of Waterloo, he explains that we as a society are “putting the livelihood of local farmers at risk, and jeopardising the future of some of Canada’s all-too-rare high quality farmland” (Food for City Building). 

It is our hope that every member of our university community and beyond will play a part in building a sustainable future. The UW Farm Market reminds students to support local farmers and make healthy and sustainable changes in their lifestyles. Join us in the Lower Atrium at the Student Life Centre (SLC) next summer for an exciting opportunity to purchase quality goods and enjoy the ambience of a student-inspired farmers market!