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Student Chronicles A Day in the Life of the Campus Farm

The community garden isn’t the only farming project in the area. A plot at Chancellor’s Point is also being turned into a farm through the environmental studies course “Leave No Trace,” according to Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin. In order to create this farm, students in the class and in the Chancellor’s Point Project club will be doing independent projects under the umbrella “Permaculture” approach, which is a way of designing farms and other agricultural systems that mimic natural environments. Senior Kate Pollasch designed the layout of the plot as her senior art project; in another senior project, senior Bryan Alexander is also building an outdoor kitchen next to the plot. The plot has just recently been cleared of Wisteria trees and invasive species that nevertheless have left the soil in good shape for farming. According to Benjamin, this plot is the beginning of what will hopefully become an entire environmental studies field school at Chancellor’s Point. Tilling and planting will begin very soon. (Photo by Kyle Jernigan)
The community garden isn’t the only farming project in the area. A plot at Chancellor’s Point is also being turned into a farm through the environmental studies course “Leave No Trace,” according to Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin. In order to create this farm, students in the class and in the Chancellor’s Point Project club will be doing independent projects under the umbrella “Permaculture” approach, which is a way of designing farms and other agricultural systems that mimic natural environments. Senior Kate Pollasch designed the layout of the plot as her senior art project; in another senior project, senior Bryan Alexander is also building an outdoor kitchen next to the plot. The plot has just recently been cleared of Wisteria trees and invasive species that nevertheless have left the soil in good shape for farming. According to Benjamin, this plot is the beginning of what will hopefully become an entire environmental studies field school at Chancellor’s Point. Tilling and planting will begin very soon. (Photo by Kyle Jernigan)
Right off of Route 5, immediate South of Rosecroft Rd., lies a beige-brown house that is about as inconspicuous as one can imagine. Next to that house is a little plot of land that used to look just as unremarkable. Recently, however, it has experienced a transformation with the dedication and hard work of the Community Garden Club and volunteers, and is very quickly being turned into a vibrant campus farm. I had written about it, and talked to students and faculty about the coming project, but planting finally had started, and I wanted to go out there to see it myself.

After taking the very short bike ride (it’s also a quite reasonable walk from the campus center), the first thing I remember was being surprised at exactly how big the plot is; in farming terms a half-acre doesn’t sound like much, but it actually looked quite impressive, certainly worlds different from the little plot outside Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) that used to be the Community Garden. It also looked like quite a challenge, but by Thursday a patch of land had already been tilled, and according to Head of the Community Garden Club Nathan Beall summer squash, lettuce, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, and more had already been planted. Seeing their leaves poke out of the soil, one could get a small impression of the hopes of what this would eventually become.

I learned from Nathan that the farm was being loosely based off the plans created by former Sustainability Fellow Rachel Clement, ’09. However the demands of growing plants mean that the plans must ultimately be flexible; members of the club are figuring out the real plot outline on the spot with (what seemed to me to be) great helpings of passed-along farming wisdom gathered from a myriad of sources, if not always from experience; for most of the people I talked to, actually coming out and farming was a completely novel.

Nathan also told me that Farm Days, which occurred April 7 and 8 to promote the farm, had netted the club a volunteer list of 160 and $169 in donations. It is this and money collected from the SGA that has so far funded the club; the former has, according to SEAC Vice President Aaron French, already gone to “hoes, hay, and tools”, whereas the latter, according to club’s advisor Kate Chandler, is to be used to buy special mushroom-enriched soil for (hopefully) improved plant growth.
Beall said that volunteers had come out “pretty much every day this week”, usually a couple at a time. However, the two days I was there (April 22 and 23) a surprising number of people showed up to help, trickling in over and after the scheduled 4:30 to 6:00PM loosely agreed-upon schedule. He added, “[the farm’s] worked well so far as a collaborative effort.”

For now, however, there was work to be done, and I decided to get my hands dirty with some manual tilling, a job French jokingly described as “prison work”. One wouldn’t think manual labor would be enjoyable, but there’s something very “Zen” about something as simple (if perhaps labor-intensive) as tilling, and the feeling of breaking up a big chunk of soil is almost cathartic. I could easily see how this could almost act as a meditation of sorts on one’s abilities to nurture growth and transformation. After a while, one starts to see his or her little patch of dry dirt with great effort turn into something that, “actually looks like you could plant something in it,” in the words of First-year Sarah Kenton. And when that happens, one cannot help but feel a little pride for the little contribution he or she has made to this big experiment in college student agriculture; I know I did.

My experience was fairly short, a little over an hour and a half of talking and tilling. I got the impression from members of the farm that this was kind of how it was going to be, a volunteer effort when you could work when you wanted and as you wished; it was refreshing to do nothing but just work with my hands outside in the beautiful weather, doing something rewarding but without the pressures of the normal school day.

After having spent longer than expected working, and feeling the pressures of my “real” work slowly returning to my awareness, I went back to campus to work on my Bradlee lecture article (also featured in this issue) in the air-conditioned enclave (sometimes dungeon) that is the Point News room. Somehow I thought I could work better, having had my time out in the garden to mull over things in my mind; the next time I get writer’s block, perhaps I’ll go back, just to “meditate” a little more on the subtleties of tilled dirt and green things.

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