In the last Student Government Association meeting, a bill to expand the funding of the Campus Farm and cover expenses for supplies and summer employment was approved, with changes and contingencies given the current economic difficulties of the SGA this semester.
Co-written by sophomore SGA senator Alex Walls and sophomore senator Becky White, the bill brought to light the current funding situation of the Campus Farm, a quarter-acre of land in Historic St. Mary’s City officially established in Spring 2010 to grow a variety of vegetables to be sold to the College community. Established by the Sustainability Committee and former Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall, its goals were two-fold: to offer students an opportunity to learn more about farming and to create a sustainable food source for the College.
The Campus Farm runs year-round, growing vegetables in all seasons (including kale in the winter). This also includes during the summer, when volunteers alongside Associate Professor of English and Environmental Studies Coordinator Kate Chandler continue to maintain the farm until the academic year begins. Volunteers include students on campus, faculty members, and members of the St. Mary’s community outside of the College.
However, a decrease in number of volunteer farmers during the summer makes it more difficult to maintain the summer crops, which die without high maintenance and care. While two paid volunteer students (working part-time) and Chandler were enough to maintain the Farm last summer, the Farm will need funding for the hiring of student managers who can also work to maintain the farm this summer. Every semester, the Campus Farm would request for funds from the Finance Board for Fund Appeals to meet its supply demands. But, this practice will be difficult to maintain in future years.
“[Farmers] were basically going to Finance Board for Fund Appeals every semester,” said White, “but as a bigger more expensive enterprise with much more potential than the standard student club, Finance Board wouldn’t have been able to keep meeting their needs, and it made more sense for them to get their money elsewhere.”
In a presentation before the SGA, Walls, White, and Student Trustee Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall explained that funding for the farm for the entire year costs about $8300. Each Fall and Spring semester requires $900 for supplies ($200 for seeds, $300 for tools, and $400 for soil), and $6500 is needed for two student summer employees to work 30 hours per week at $7.25 per hour.
“The Campus Farm is getting funding from the Sustainability Office and the ENST (Environmental Studies) committee that Chandler heads. The former will be committing $2000, and the latter $1000,” said White. “The legislation itself stipulates that we pay the Campus Farm per semester…to come out of the SGA’s Special Carryover Fund.”
In the legislation, Walls requested for two years of funding, $5300 per year. “I wanted to find a source of stable funding for the Farm,” he said. “Without stable funding, especially to pay people during the summer to manage it, the Farm will cease to exist.”
While the SGA passed the bill to give the Campus Farm funding for the 2011-2012 academic year, which will include this summer’s expenses, funding for the following year was not approved. Matt Smith, junior and SGA Treasurer, mentioned during the proceedings that the Special Carryover Funds were low due to the recent economic constraints of the College, and that funding for two years would be a heavier investment than the SGA would reasonably be able to make.
“The reason we were only able to commit to funding the Farm for one year is that we are simply not sure how many more hits Special Carryover can take,” said White.
Further complicating the issue was the recent loss of funding for the Terrified Pedestrian Bike Shop by the Office of Planning and Facilities. Without a higher budget for College clubs, the SGA will not be able to successfully fund the Bike Shop and Campus Farm once other clubs are funded.
To aid in funding for College clubs, Walls, White, Ruthenberg-Marshall, and the rest of SGA is pushing for a referendum (to be included in the SGA Elections on Blackboard, starting on April 20 at 8:00 a.m.) that will increase student fees by $25. With a student body of almost 1900, this increase would allocate an additional $47,500 for club funding, which would loosen the tight restraints on College clubs while also allowing for stable funding of the Bike Shop and the Campus Farm until it can sustain itself as an organization.
“I can’t thank [the SGA] enough,” said Chandler. “The SGA has been incredibly supportive of the farm…I think what it’s doing is impressive.”
Besides being a sustainable food option for the College, the Campus Farm has very quickly taken on academic uses. “Dr. Gorton’s Biology 101 class forms part of our one acre,” said Chandler.
Beyond community involvement and academics, the Farm itself is becoming more stable, expanding its size with a one-acre lease from Historic St. Mary’s City and making an agreement with Bon Appétit’s manager of operations Dave Sansotta.
“[Sansotta] agreed to purchase all the produce we grow,” said Aaron French, who designed his St. Mary’s Project around the Community Garden and its connection between the Campus Farm and the county, “which is a huge step towards a sustainable food system on this campus.”
After the SGA Elections and the approval or denial of the $25 increase, the SGA will determine the future funding conditions of clubs, including the Bike Shop and Campus Farm.
“I do believe that the Farm has the potential to be something great,” said Walls, “but we need to get through this period of uncertainty.”