Campus Beet has become a regular occurrence at the Wesley Foundation near Sangren Hall on Western Michigan University’s campus. Outside of the Wesley Foundation on Wednesday afternoons, on the steps leading up to the building, is a chalk board giving the student populous an advertisement to come to the volunteer-run student cafeteria.
Josh Berkenpas, originally from Grand Rapids and working to acquire his PhD. in political science at WMU, is one of the main volunteers that helps to maintain the presence and goals of the Campus Beet.
“As much as possible, especially this time of year, its local [food],” Berkenpas said. In fact, one of the main events of the Campus Beet is called Farmer’s Feast, which brings in local farmers to talk about their organic crops and what they grow in order to foster purchasing of locally-owned foods over industrial-sold items. “Then we get a bunch of their produce and incorporate it into a meal,” Berkenpas said, “and everyone gets to feast on the Farmer’s Feast.”
Campus Beet’s origins are largely unknown in terms of who started the idea over seven years ago; Berkenpas playfully mentioned those origins as “folklore.” Berkenpas, himself, is going on his third year of volunteer service at the student-run cafe. The idea for Campus Beet ultimately started in a WMU class where the idea of a student cafe first started to take shape. As a result Campus Beet provides it’s service in the basement of the Wesley Foundation, offering $3 meals that accommodate a gluten-free and vegetarian palate with vegetable-based meals, bread, and a “treat.”
Nola Weirsman, co-director of the Kalamazoo Peace Center and WMU alumni, often buys lunch from the Campus Beet cafe on Wednesdays. This is true for Natasha Allan as well, who is a WMU alum employed at the University Libraries and currently in the Library School graduate program at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s flavorful and it’s like a home-cooked meal,” Allan said, “My mom is big into cooking and it’s tastes like something she cooks at home. And I like the fact that it’s locally sourced most of the time.”
“I like the fact that it’s sensitive to people’s dietary choices,” Wiersma said. Weirsma considers herself a “locavore”, a person partaking of local foods as much as possible. “Typically it’s vegetarian [food], I don’t think they’ve ever served anything other than vegetarian, and it’s typically a range of flavors throughout the season. They use seasonal stuff to make their soups or their dishes.”
“I like that there’s not a lot of monetary incentive because its usually volunteers that join,” Allan said.
Lisa Batten, the director of the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo, also commented on the importance of the Campus Beet; “I think that it provides, not only an inexpensive lunch, but a healthy option, a healthy alternative to what students could be eating,” Batten said. “It also provides an educational opportunity to learn about food justice.”
“It’s a win-win,” Batten said, “Wesley provides the space at no cost to Campus Beet, which then enables Campus Beet to do what they do at low cost and as efficiently as possible. I think Campus Beet provides an opportunity for Wesley to partner with them as a food justice organization in a way that I don’t know if we’d be able to on our own. So the Campus Beet enables us to do more than what we can do by ourselves.”
“I’ve eaten there before,” Batten said, “and I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve eaten there. I also appreciate that they have gluten-free options– they typically have gluten-free options– not that I’m, gluten intolerant, but I know people who are. The food is delicious and healthy and a good quality lunch for $3.”
As far as a quality lunch that satisfies your dietary restrictions and educates you to local needs, the Campus Beet seems to beat out the rest.
The Wesley Foundation is found on WMU’s campus at 2101 Wilbur Ave. and the Campus Beet’s hours are from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Wednesdays.