Mike Zimmerman ’08, a recent Wesleyan grad from Essex, VT, is featured this week in a New York Times article regarding the third-year law student’s efforts (and ensuing legal struggles) to start a farm-share program at Fordham. The concept is simple enough, especially if you’re signed up for Wesleyan’s Fruit and Veggie Co-Op: “Students, as well as faculty and staff members, paid about $150 per semester to buy a share of a harvest from a farm in central New York.”
The legal issues are a bit thornier. Zimmerman’s program, Farm to Fordham, was officially shut down last week—“the culmination of a convoluted process that began in April, when security personnel refused to open the gate for a vegetable delivery.”
If you remember Food Not Bombs’ feud with the Middletown Health Department back in ’09, this all may seem at least slightly familiar. Except not: Farm to Fordham wasn’t providing free food. And it wasn’t a catering service. It was an agricultural network, which doesn’t require a permit, Zimmerman argues:
Over the next few months, the group’s founder, Michael Zimmerman, a third-year law student, tried to satisfy Fordham’s requests so it could reopen, but to no avail: on Wednesday, he was forwarded an e-mail from the university’s legal counsel, indicating that it would no longer allow the initiative.
[ . . . ]
Months earlier, the university had told Mr. Zimmerman that to maintain the program, he would need to secure a one-day catering permit each time the farm made a delivery. But the program was not a catering service; it was a community-supported agriculture network. And neither the State Department of Agriculture and Markets nor the city’s health department issues or requires permits for such networks.
Bob Howe, Fordham’s director of communications, acknowledged that the permit requirement from the university amounted to “a Catch-22.” But the decision, he said, incorporated a host of other factors: the specter of infestation, concerns about honoring the university’s food service contracts, and the program’s potential interference with construction at the law school.
Zimmerman, meanwhile, continues to maintain the project has merit—practically and legally:
Infestation concerns are unfounded, he said, because deliveries take place outdoors. Construction has begun near the delivery site, with the first phase scheduled for completion in 2014, but the path to the patio — where members picked up their produce — remains largely unimpeded. And the program does not appear to be competitive with the university’s catering service, Sodexo, because — as both city and state officials pointed out to Mr. Zimmerman when he tried to obtain a permit — Farm to Fordham is not a caterer.
Zimmerman apparently hopes to find an alternative space for the agricultural project to flourish. You can read about Farm to Fordham’s legal struggles here, investigate the project’s partnership with the Church of St. Paul the Apostle here (the group reportedly donated extra vegetables to the church’s soup kitchen each week), or join the Fruit & Veggie Co-Op here (just kidding, you’re too late).