Urban agriculture is not something many people would expect to find in Galesburg, but the high tunnels put small-scale farming practices into place right here on the Knox campus. The Knox Farm contributes several important things to campus. Not only does it provide employment for students and a way to volunteer and get involved with the community, but it is also provides students with an experience that they wouldn’t get at other schools.
“Especially at big schools, their agriculture programs are going to be a lot more focused to what is accepted in agriculture today, which is the industrial model,” said junior Sofia Tagkaloglou. “It gives students the opportunity to see that things can be done in a different way.”
Tagkaloglou, along with Coral Weinstock, who is abroad this term, runs volunteer hours at the Knox Farm. From her experience, she has seen that students like to try new things and learn new skills, not just do the same thing every time they come to volunteer. As the student managers, they get a lot of autonomy to decide what will be grown in the high tunnels.
“I like that it gives me a space to get creative and do things that I normally wouldn’t get an opportunity to do,” said Tagkaloglou.
Currently, they are trying different strategies to diversify what they are growing, to make the experience more interesting for students.
“Most people don’t know how a farm operates, you see what kind of connection you can build with touching the soil.”
Over the summer, the Knox Farm produces a lot of tomatoes. Growing tomatoes is something that makes a lot of money for the operation, but students grow tired of only learning how to grow and harvest tomatoes. Director of Sustainability Debbie Steinberg, who teaches the Urban Agriculture class this term, gives students a lot of freedom to decide what they want to do, so they have the freedom to grow more greens, or more tomatoes.
Bon Apptit is currently the only entity who is buying from the Knox Farm. Otherwise, the food is given away for free, to students and members of the community. They have sold Bon Apptit over 2,000 pounds of food: mostly squash, tomatoes, cucumber and pumpkins. Some things they have lesser quantities of, so they keep them for seeds for next year.
“These are all foods that people eat, but you don’t really know how it grows. You see peas and soybeans all around, but you don’t know that a beet has these really nice leaves that you can put in a salad, or that peas have these really beautiful flowers. It’s nice to see the full life cycle of the things that you’re putting into your body,” Tagkaloglou said.
What keeps students coming back to volunteer for hours is giving them different things to do and experience, so it doesn’t feel like work. Spending time in nature is also psychologically known to help people, which is also a big component that draws students.
Because of the high tunnels, they can extend the growing seasons. As they take some plants out, they prepare to put in a lot of things that are known to be heartier for the winter, like kale, swiss chard, green and purple cabbage and garlic. They try to get them in the ground a couple weeks before the first frost, so that they grow big enough to make it through the winter.
“If we work a little extra in the fall and prepare, you get a lot of food earlier than everybody else,” Tagkaloglou said.