Weeding. Watering. Feeding ripe, juicy tomatoes by hand to the local deer. It’s all part of the process of getting close to the food at the Albion College Student Farm.
Agriculture has been featured in Albion’s year of sustainability, with Joel Salatin, a farmer in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as the 2010 Richard M. Smith Common Reading Experience speaker. Salatin addressed Albion’s first-year students on Wednesday, Sept. 15.
Generating excitement about food and becoming aware of where food comes from is one of the best ways to be sustainable, according to Salatin—the newly created Albion College Student Farm is one way to do that. Salatin toured the farm prior to his address.
During the 2010 spring semester, a group of Albion College students set out to bring both the college and community closer to their food and took action once they learned about the college’s theme year of sustainability—acquiring the funding, land, tools and seeds needed to create a student farm.
“Farming can be fun, profitable, and land regenerative; it doesn’t have to be land depleting, drudgery, smelly and non-remunerative,” Salatin said. “The (Albion College) farm’s wonderful—it’s a real tribute.”
Kaitlyn Pospiech, Grand Rapids sophomore and Cody Yothers, Harbor Springs sophomore, took care of the farm during the summer by creating a joint internship between the college grounds department and Center for Sustainability and the Environment that allowed them to stay on campus.
“We didn’t know about (the year of sustainability) until the very end of the year,” said Pospiech, Grand Rapids sophomore “Then we knew that since it was the year of sustainability, it was time to sink our roots in.”
With funding from the Albion College Student Senate, donation of land from the college equestrian center and seeds from the Jolly Green Junction in Albion, Yothers and Pospiech planted and tended to naturally grown produce ranging from corn to broccoli.
Currently, the farm encompasses a 700-square foot area across from Victory Park on Haven Road, although there are 2.5 acres available for future expansion. In the last week of August, the farm sold more than 100 pounds of produce—mostly tomatoes—to Baldwin Dining Hall.
Pryce Hadley, Marquette junior, who helped to found the farm, said the farm’s purpose was to make people more aware of the origins of their food.
“(We wanted them to learn) how it’s grown and how it’s processed, because too often we’re isolated from that just by going to the grocery store,” Hadley said. “We’re disconnected from the environmental cost and significance.”
Although the farm grows food naturally without the use of pesticides, the farm produce cannot be labeled organic because it has not been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Hadley. The farm does not plan to pursue organic certification due to the expense of the process.
Yothers said that the most difficult part of starting the farm was simply learning how to grow the food—something that was accomplished mostly by trial and error and from other people and books.
“All summer, when you’re farming, you run into issues, and there was no precedent,” Yothers said. “We had to say, ‘does this work?’ and if it didn’t, go back and fix it. Because of the school giving us the land at the end of the semester, we were late in planting and have room for improvement.”
Both Albion professors and teachers from the local elementary schools have expressed interest in using the farm as an outside classroom, according to Hadley.
“It’s great how much support and interest we’ve had from freshmen,” Pospiech said. “We had 14 people show up at Harvest Day last week.”
Plans in the immediate future for the farm include putting up a hoop house—winter greenhouse—in the next several weeks to extend the farm’s growing season and planting for the fall season.
Visit www.acstudentfarm.blogspot.com, the farm’s Facebook page or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to volunteer.