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SMC Gets Serious About Organic Farming

Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin surveys the growth of seedlings in the community garden greenhouse. According to Benjamin, they will be transplanted mid-april. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin surveys the growth of seedlings in the community garden greenhouse. According to Benjamin, they will be transplanted mid-april. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

Great strides are already being made on an ambitious new campus farm project, which promises to change the way students look at agriculture and food consumption.

The original community garden, created as an SMP project, was originally a plot of land outside of Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) in which any student could “experiment,” according to the Community Garden club’s advisor Kate Chandler. However, its limited size, placement, and soil content made it far from ideal. “There was no space to teach gardening,” added Shane Hall, ’09, Sustainability Fellow and facilitator. The garden was also vandalized this past fall.

Because of these issues, and the growing sentiment of what Chandler called “concern about the food they eat and where it’s coming from,” a coalition consisting of students, faculty and staff including sustainability fellows Rachel Clement ’08 and Meredith Epstein ’08, the community garden club headed by Nathan Beall, and environmental studies students and professors started discussions last fall about acquiring new land for a larger community garden. Further investigations found open farmland in Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC), and HSMC “land manager” and Professor of Anthropology Daniel Ingersoll persuaded executive director of Historic St. Mary’s City Regina Faden to hold back around five acres for the garden, which will be leased at market prices. According to Sustainability Coordinator Christophe Bornand “[we] were always interested in how [this land] could be used for the college.”

Although the land has only just recently been leased, multiple projects are already underway to get the garden up and running. Much of this early momentum has been given through the assistance of both the Chancellor’s Point project, which built a Green House to store the early seedlings, and members of the community such as Frank and Christina Allen who provided heirloom seeds and other farming essentials. The SGA also provided funds to buy seeds and larger tools. As a result, the growing is already underway and seeds are already planted in flats in the greenhouse. Chandler said, “The oats are up two inches, and they were just planting it last week during spring break!”

The oats are up two inches, and they were just planting it last week during spring break! -Kate Chandler (Photo by Rowan Copley)
The oats are up two inches, and they were just planting it last week during spring break! -Kate Chandler (Photo by Rowan Copley)

According to both Hall and Chandler, the garden also has many academic applications. Hall said that when doing research members of the project had a “much harder time finding classes that wouldn’t benefit from [the Community Garden].” Classes currently offered in the environmental studies curricula, for example, could organize field trips to the garden as a learning opportunity. The garden also provides the impetus for many new possible classes that could take more direct advantage of the opportunity to farm. Hall said, “Because agriculture is essential to civilization, you can’t ignore food distribution and agriculture in a liberal arts curriculum.”

Produce grown in the garden could furthermore be sold to Bon Appetit in a “farm to fork” deal highlighting the garden’s potential. Chandler said, “Bon Appetit has been so supportive… [Director of Operations] Debi Wright has been an enormous help.” She added that Bon Appetit was “quite willing” to buy food from the garden, and plans are currently underway to get the garden certified to do so.

The garden, according to the announcement on the college’s sustainability web site (www.smcm.edu/sustainability/aboutfood.html), is meant to “Teach College and community members about sustainable agriculture while producing local, organic, nutritious food.” Foremost, the farm provides students the ability to actually learn how to farm, a talent that according to Hall is in short supply. Many students are coming to the realization that, “I’m 18 years old and I don’t know how to coax plants out of the ground,” said Hall. The garden also provides further experience to students already learning to farm on off-campus sites such as Even’ Star Organic Farm.

Students who want to get involved with the project can come to the farm days to take place April 7 and 8 in the Great Room, during which students can learn more about the project, how to get involved, and what sorts of produce the farm could provide. Chandler hopes students who have the time will also be willing to “jump in” on future opportunities to work part-time in the community garden, especially during harvest season. She said, “We recognize we need to get the word out, and we want the campus community to be excited about this.”

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