Convenient and fresh, the Student Union’s newest vending machine, Farmer’s Fridge, gives Comets an option for grab-and-go foods as a healthier alternative for on-campus dining.
Located between The Market and Halal Shack in the Student Union, Farmer’s Fridge allows students to choose from a variety of packed salads, bowls, wraps and snacks that are nutritionally balanced and made in-house at their base in Chicago. Unlike the fast food options on campus, Farmer’s Fridge has fresh ingredients and meals that each contain a full serving of fruits or vegetables. The machine is open all hours that the Student Union is, including when other restaurants are closed. Menu items include a variety of both vegetarian and chicken options such as a pesto pasta salad, baja chicken wrap and chia pudding, as well as seasonal options like an apple pecan salad. Students can purchase items for around $3.75 to $9.99.
According to Alisa Model, a political science sophomore and chair for SG’s Green Initiative, aside from The Market and Halal Shack, students looking for produce have limited options.
“Of course, it’s not every day that you have time in the morning to pack food or meal prep or pack a lunch,” Model said. “And so being able to find [healthy] options on campus is really important, especially for commuters or even if you [can’t] put your meal in the middle of the day in the fridge … And so when I heard about Farmer’s Fridge, I was really excited because I’ve seen them in other places and then the concept of having fresh, healthy food options is very appealing.”
Food is made at a centralized commissary in Chicago with ingredients from Illinois. Once prepared, the meals are shipped throughout the country to their respective fridges. Due to this transportation time, meals in the UTD fridge are generally produced 30 to 48 hours before students see them available for sale. Meals are dispensed in a mason-jar-like container that can be reused at home, returned to the machine to be recycled or rinsed and put into regular recycling bins. However, if students want to keep the jars, they must hand wash them — they are not microwave or dishwasher friendly. Unpurchased meals that are still safe to eat are donated to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks that operates nationwide.
“We are trying to make food as accessible as your Snickers bar, your candy bar, whatever you would get from a vending machine,” Matt Gavula, Texas sales manager of Farmer’s Fridge, said. “And I think not only in the past 10 years we’ve been in business, but the past two years specifically, that idea and that goal have become a lot more attainable.”
Started in Chicago, Illinois in 2013, Farmer’s Fridge has installed 1,000 fridges in cities all over the United States — including in UTD’s Student Union and UT Arlington’s library. The company started off by creating machines for airports and healthcare spaces but eventually expanded to universities.
“When I was on campus, it was very easy to get Chick-fil-A, Panda Express, these fast-food type restaurants,” Gavula said. “Our goal is to make fresh foods just as accessible as those other offerings.”
Though the Farmer’s Fridge brings new, healthier options to campus, it comes at a cost. Compared to salad meal kits at grocery stores, such as Walmart, which range from $2.97 to $4.98, the $8 to $10 that the vending machine charges are expensive. Additionally, meals in the Farmer’s Fridge are intended to be one serving while many store-bought salads contain multiple servings for a lower price. However, compared to salad chains such as Salad And Go and Sweetgreen charging upwards of $7 per meal, the price point of Farmer’s Fridge is put into perspective.
Students can visit the Farmer’s Fridge during regular Student Union hours. Through instructions in Farmer’s Fridge app, UTD students can receive a $9 coupon code to try the new dining options for themselves.