Despite having the high tunnels on campus for three years, the Urban Agriculture class and Knox Farm are still working out the best ways to use them. The groups work toward different goals and have different histories but both use the land between the Human Rights Center and sorority houses to grow plants, learn about farming and have fun.
The Knox Farm is currently run by two co-managers and volunteers. They grow in the southern high tunnels and share the outdoor plot with the Urban Agriculture class. The course uses the northern high tunnel for classes.
Farm co-manager junior Sofia Tagkaloglou explained that high tunnels are traditionally used to extend the farming season. However, the farm has not been able to use the tunnels for this purpose in their three seasons yet and plan to this coming year.
“In the future, when we don’t have to [rebuild beds], we’ll be able to start planting as early as February,” Tagkaloglou said.
The Knox Farm managers plan to change their methods for the summer, too. As part of continued progress in soil maintenance, they plan to grow a cover crop of cowpeas in the high tunnels this summer that they will then pull before it seeds and leave as biomass to return nitrogen to the soil. They plan to use buckwheat in the outside plot as a companion plant and pollinator attractor as they did last year.
“The longer that you’re out here the more taxing on the soil [you can be] if you’re not careful. So we try to do a really good job [on] crop rotation … Just trying to mindful and respectful, especially since we’re an organic operation,” current co-manager senior Coral Weinstock said.
Part of Weinstock and Tagkaloglou’s mission this term is to teach the volunteers more about the “why” behind their tasks. The farm has more volunteers this term, averaging two to six per work day. However, Director of Campus Sustainability Debbie Steinberg said that they were not looking to expand beyond the acre currently in use.
“We don’t have enough labor to expand at this point,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg is currently trying to set up a Post-Bacc position for the Farm, which will likely go to Weinstock.
The lack of summer workers has also been an issue for the education tunnel. The first year, Associate Professor of Environmental Science Peter Schwartzman was unsure what would happen to the outdoor plot the class used.
“The first year, I [was] already working on other gardens in the community, I [didn’t] have time to do another huge plot. So I just let it go and then somebody from the campus just decided they were going to adopt it for one year,” Schwartzman said.
The first ideas for the farm came from independent studies on campus gardens overseen by Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser from 2005 to 2008. In the spring of 2009, Rachel Deffenbaugh ‘09 presented a proposal on the educational benefits of a farming class to the Sustainability Task Force. The next year, Samir Bakhshi ‘10 presented one on the economic benefits of a campus farm. Bakhshi cited a figure of $10,000 per year. After seeing their proposals turned down, Schwartzman started planning the Urban Agriculture class.
“My feeling was that if somebody was teaching the class, that would at least give the students a chance to learn the various techniques, and they could also then maybe be able to mount a more coherent proposal to bring food into the cafeteria,” Schwartzman said.
When the class was approved, Schwartzman was given $1,500 for five years. Students now pay a fee for the class to pay for seeds and tools, as well as trips or guest speakers.
“[The class has] been really cool so far. It’s a unique opportunity. We’ve learned a lot about food systems in society, which I’m really interested in. It’s really independent so you get to kind of plant how you want and learn that way,” freshman Kenna Bell, who is taking the class, said.
The students in the Urban Agriculture class often volunteer at the Farm. Bell said that the class had required volunteer hours. Not all of the volunteers take the class though, and Tagkaloglou and Weinstock say they see new faces fairly regularly.
“Personally, this is just a very relaxing, calming thing to do after you have a crazy amount of classes. So that’s why I like doing it,” volunteer freshman Soleil Smith said.