Sustainability is on the Menu for “Friendsgiving” Celebrations – Bentley University

Friendsgiving celebrations are a popular tradition among college students the week before Thanksgiving, with many students improvising a full turkey dinner with takeout from their favorite restaurants or prepared foods from big supermarket chains. But in 2021, student leaders from the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center (BSLCE) decided to ditch big business and plastic takeout containers for more sustainable shopping that also supports local businesses by hosting an on-campus Friendsgiving Farmers’ Market. This year’s second-annual event attracted more than a dozen vendors. 
“We were excited last year when students approached us about organizing a Friendsgiving Farmers’ Market,” says Bria Milbery, BSLCE associate director of programs and initiatives. “This year we doubled the number of vendors and the types of products ranging from locally sourced honey, Peruvian pastries, fair trade coffee, vegan Mediterranean options and so much more. This event offers a great opportunity for people to learn about ethical and sustainable consumption, as well as the true history of the Thanksgiving holiday.”  
The vendors included Del’s Coffee Roasters, a fair-trade certified company that uses sustainaStudents at table at farmer's market bly and ethically sourced coffee beans; Dick’s Market Garden, a second-generation family farm that grows more than 95% of their fruits and vegetables; and Valicenti Pasta Farm, whose mission is “to grow, source, make and provide good, wholesome, locally made, real food.” Bentley students chose from items like seasonal fruits and vegetables, homemade pasta and small batch sauces, hummus, baba ghanoush, pastries, jams, local honey and — always a crowd favorite — cider donuts. 
The idea for the farmers’ market was first brought up in 2021 by Monica Manna ’23, Annabelle Tran ’23 and Aden Walker ’22, MSF ’23 on the newly formed BSLCE Sustainability Committee. 
“While most people associate sustainability with the environment, we believe sustainability resides within businesses of all kinds,” Walker says of the committee’s mission. “The Friendsgiving Farmers’ Market initiative brings local vendors from the greater Boston area to campus; it gives them an environment to sell and share their stories without sacrificing any initial outlay of costs. This mutually beneficial event allowed students to try locally sourced goods at a fair price and engage Bentley University with the Waltham community.” 
Manna, who is a BSLCE lead program manager and Marketing major, agrees. “The Friendsgiving aspect of the event was a perfect fit because it is something that resonates with college students; but instead of shopping at large supermarkets, purchasing unsustainably produced products, we encouraged the Bentley community to buy locally and sustainably from our vendors for their gatherings. We knew that a farmers’ market took place in Waltham and were excited to connect with some of those sustainable, locally owned businesses and bridge them with the Bentley community.”
To get the inaugural Friendsgiving Farmers’ Market off the ground, the student trio worked with BSLCE Director Jonathan White, an associate professor of sociology, who was the staff liaison to the student committee at the time, and Milbery, who helped with ideation and logistics. Event planning included calls to local businesses and visits to the Waltham Farmers’ Market.  
“On Saturdays, the three of us would put on our BSLCE shirts and head over to the market to connect and reconnect with new and old vendors,” Manna recalls. “Bentley has really shown me all that goes into creating a successful business, which is incredibly challenging to build and sustain. Therefore, my respect for small businesses — especially those who are taking the longer and even more expensive route to ensure sustainable and ethical practices — has quadrupled.” 
Tran agrees. “I recognize there can be a lot of food waste and support for large food corporations that may not practice ethically or sustainably. I’m so happy that I could be a part of increasing access to locally sourced food.” 
A Finance major and BSLCE student civic engagement coordinator, Tran adds, “My motto has always been to leave things better than you found them. Whether that’s a physical place or a community, it is so important for me to integrate that stewardship into my life.”
Another important community component of the Friendsgiving Farmers’ Market is taking a critical view of how the Thanksgiving holiday might impact indigenous communities, often considered a National Day of Mourning rather than a celebration of prosperity. 
“Sustainability is at the core of any injustice that you look at; it’s connected to everything so it’s important that we look at that interconnectedness,” says Milbery. “A great example is adding the educational component highlighting the truth about Thanksgiving and why it’s a problematic holiday for Indigenous people. It’s really thinking about why we are celebrating this holiday and what it means.” 
White says the Friendsgiving Farmers’ Market is a great example of the civic problem-solving our students are doing through the BSLCE. “The students have created an event where the campus can come together to learn about shopping locally and more sustainably while having fun and celebrating community. And they are using the opportunity to educate folks about the cultural and physical genocide of Native American nations. Their hope is that the Bentley community comes away from the market with intentionality in assessing our role as conscious consumers and as individuals guided by a deepened conscience in confronting our history and practice.” 
Bentley student-organizers of the Friendsgiving Farmer’s Market developed a list of facts and resources about Thanksgiving and Native Americans. 


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