As the pandemic lays bare the socioeconomic divide and national issues of food insecurity, an ambitious New College student is helping feed communities in need. Emiliano Espinosa—the co-founder of the College’s 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Conference—has been putting his business sense to use while studying off campus on a Maryland farm for the past year. Working with an eco-conscious organization called Coops to Co-ops, Espinosa helped create and launch a farmers’ market in May in Princess Anne—a town in one of Maryland’s most poverty-stricken counties. The market was a massive success and part of an overarching effort to make food culture more sustainable countrywide.
“Even before the pandemic, we were noticing how vulnerable a lot of cities in America are to being dependent on big food systems. The moment China can’t export food or companies shut down, we go into panic mode and start buying, so supporting local farms and farmers’ markets is more important than it’s ever been,” Espinosa said. “It’s so beautiful seeing more people waking up to the idea that you can plant your own food, support your local farmers, and be stronger and more independent in situations like this.”
Espinosa had been waking up to these proactive ideas for years. When he learned that his longtime friends, the Phillips family in Maryland, had purchased farmland there (and had a broader vision for its development), he immediately got involved.
“I was originally going to do this as a summer job but the idea sounded so cool that I decided to stay up here for longer,” said Espinosa, a transfer student from Florida Atlantic University who has been enrolled at New College since January 2018 (his proposed area of concentration is general studies with a focus on community development and social entrepreneurship).
The Coops to Co-ops founder hired Espinosa to spearhead the farmers’ market project, tasking him with everything from conducting social research to recruiting vendors to assembling a team of volunteers. Espinosa is embodying the idea of putting applied learning into practice while simultaneously studying in another state and earning academic credit at New College.
“I’m so thankful to New College for allowing me to do this,” Espinosa said.
When the Princess Anne farmers’ market officially opened to the public on June 10 (after the soft opening in May), a total of 142 people attended (wearing masks and socially distancing in the open-air setting). Farmers’ markets in Maryland never shut down during the pandemic; they were considered “essential businesses” because they sold food. This enabled Espinosa’s project to flourish while other companies stalled, and the positive public response proved how crucial the concept of bringing healthy food to the people is (especially in the COVID-19 era).
“The whole farmers’ market is now averaging about 80 people (and seven to nine vendors) every Saturday, so it’s really cool that the community is coming together right now,” Espinosa said. “We have yoga, family photo shoot sessions, a kids’ area and a kitchen for vegan food demos. I’ve learned that you can build community anywhere if you have a vision and a plan and let it evolve organically.”
And that’s what Coops to Co-ops continues to do. There are currently more than 3,000 abandoned chicken houses along the Eastern Shore, and the organization’s staff is now transforming the ones on their farm into greenhouses for growing organic produce. Espinosa has his hand in this aspect of Coops to Co-ops, as well as the farmers’ market and other community outreach programs.
“One of my intentions is to start a community-supported agriculture program. People would decide which types of vegetables they would like to have on a weekly basis, and the farmers would supply them to us (then people could come grab them),” Espinosa said. “It’s another way to support local economy. My main motivator is not profit but making a difference.”
Espinosa will study at New College remotely in the fall while remaining in Maryland, and he hopes to pass the torch to other students to organize the College’s second-annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference (details for the event are still in the works). He is grateful to New College for the freedom and flexibility to design his curriculum accordingly.
“Professor Hernandez has been really good at supporting me in this transition of being a full-time student who is not physically at the College. To be able to have a practical education has been a very important part of my development, as I’m able to see things I wasn’t able to before,” Espinosa said. “All these theoretical lessons I’ve been learning at New College have allowed me to put some theory into my actions. I live in one of the poorest counties in Maryland, and it’s beautiful to be able to contribute to this county and help the people here have a better life.”
For more information on Coops to Co-ops, visit coopstoco-ops.com.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.