St. Mary’s Campus Farm Expanding to an Acre, Looks to Gain Revenue

As a result of plans to expand the Campus Farms to a larger plot size, the Community Garden club has come up with several solutions of how to tend it, ranging from a farming internship to authorization to sell produce. In the coming months, Bon Appetit may begin regularly serving fruits and vegetables grown organically and farmed by the St. Mary’s student body.

The quarter-acre plot of land currently used as the campus farm, located just past Rosecroft on route 5, is harvested year-round and expanding the farm to a full acre would provide many benefits. However, according to senior and President of the Community Garden club, Tess Wier, it also presents many challenges.

“We’ve asked Historic (which owns the land) for a full acre which would be a lot more than we currently have,” Wier said. “They said we could have even more then that, but it’s an issue of having someone be there full time.”

According to Weir, this past summer, the club had farmers working 40-hour weeks, but the effort was “only enough to keep the farm alive.” Thus, the club has begun looking for someone to take on the plot during crucial summer months.

Kate Chandler, Professor of English and faculty advisor for the Community Garden Club, is looking for anyone interested in the opportunity. “We plant these wonderful things, and right when they need to be taken care of most, everyone goes home” Chandler said.

“If we could get an internship, then this will be someone who can learn about farming, who is interested in it. We have a couple ideas already of who might head that up. So that’s a hope, but we are only in the beginning stages of working on it.”

Another solution Chandler mentioned was the establishment of a Biology class with the specific study of farming and produce.

“Holly Gordon, who is teaching Biology 101 in the spring, is also considering teaching ‘The science of Gardening’, and she wants to have her students plant right next to our garden,” Chandler said.

“In terms of expanding the garden; they will be the ones doing it as part of their lab – right from the beginning – checking, testing the soil, finding out what it needs or what it is, and then preparing the soil and planting, taking it through the season.”

Working the land surrounding the current acreage also creates a “buffer zone” to shield the plot from herbicides and other farming obstacles. According to Chandler, the farmer that worked on the land surrounding the club’s had corn growing very close to the fence of the plot, which was sprayed regularly.

“If there was a breeze, it would spread the herbicides on to our plot” Chandler said. “We want to expand to an acre and get it so that we can get a buffer zone for protection.”

The “buffer” would also help with allowing to farm to claim the title “Organic Certified,” which requires that the plot be at least 100 feet from the closest fields that are being sprayed. This title will allow the farm to sell fresh produce to Bon Appetit for revenue, possibly as soon as next summer.

“I’m working on getting [the farm] under Bon Appetit’s insurance so that we can make a profit,” Weir said. “It is a lot of work. By next summer there is no reason that I can see why we wouldn’t be selling our crops, and ideally that would be how we would make a profit. Right now we are funded by the SGA . . . but there’s a lot of things we need, like fencing and irrigation, and seeds we need to buy. The money from SGA would help with that but it wouldn’t be enough to have someone working full-time, so selling would be great.”

Weir said the certification process is lengthy, but the club is well on its way. The farm has already received approval from the state, the college, and Bon Appetitive in the past six months, so the next step is contacting the health department and finding out what Bon Ap’ requires in terms of food.

Trinity church is also considering cultivating a plot on the farm, outside of the club’s acre. Senior Aaron French has begun to work with Trinity as part of his St. Mary’s Project to start a community garden there as further expansion of the farm.

“Often community gardens have separate little plots, but that’s not how we work out campus farms,” Chandler commented. “We all work on the whole thing. The idea is to have that flank ours, and we would be able to go back and forth and help each other out; provide labor back and forth, exchange plants back and forth and use the same equipment.”

With all the change happening to our local farm, the club asks for any volunteers interested in farming.

“Students may want to have a little plot on our farm,” Chandler said. “What they may do is grow crops and donate to people in need. There might be some service-oriented people who might want to do just that.”

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