Upon entering the Whitehouse Nature Center, follow the Betty Beese Ecology Trail, then turn onto the Dale Kennedy and Doug White Wren Trail. Continue East until a small red garage comes into view: There lies the Albion College Student Farm.
Earth and Environment Professor and Faculty Director of the Center for Sustainability and the Environment (CSE), Thomas Wilch, said he has worked intensely with the student farm for the past two years. Wilch said he suggests that people take a look at its mission statement to see what it is all about.
The student farm, according to Albion College’s website, strives to “cultivate a student-organized, all-natural, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing produce garden for the benefit of students, faculty and members of the Albion community of all ages.”
Paige McDowell, Traverse City senior, is a student leader for the farm and works with CSE. McDowell said that in her first year at Albion, in 2020, there was some effort put into the student farm with students weeding the hoop house, but not much was done overall. However, she said that once the CSE got more involved in its care of the farm, there was a noticeable difference.
“There was a little bit of effort, but not really any initiative put into it until the internship came up,” McDowell said. “Then it totally transformed.”
Ashlynn Reed, a senior from Palmyra, works as a communications and outreach intern for CSE, with AmeriCorps and is a student leader for the farm. Reed, who works closely with McDowell, agreed that she has seen a drastic change in the productivity of the farm after the CSE got involved – especially with the integration of the CSE Summer Americorps Sustainability Internship in the summer of 2020.
Reed said that during this internship, students undergo professional training, including learning how to properly write emails and speak professionally, along with experience working with the environment. Reed said student interns spend two to three hours daily at the student farm and community garden, where they harvest plants and prepare for the fall season.
“We spent a lot of time looking at sustainability initiatives at different colleges; we’ll go to different universities and colleges and have tours of their facilities and learn what they’re doing,” Reed said. “We take that knowledge back to our campus and see if we can implement it in different places.”
Reed said she finds the internship beneficial no matter how much experience students have gardening, adding that anyone is welcome to participate in the internship, including non-CSE members.
“It’s very interesting for students who have never gardened – who don’t have the way to do it or have not had the knowledge in the past,” Reed said. “I grew a lot as a kid and I found that there was a lot that I didn’t know.”
McDowell said that once the internship was integrated, the farm looked better as a whole, adding that there were fewer weeds and the plants were more colorful and healthy. She said this year, the farm is doing even better, growing more plants than she remembers seeing in the past.
Albion junior Sam Helmbreck was a part of the CSE internship this past summer. He said that this year, the students at the farm have planted a variety of crops including pumpkins, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, raspberries, lettuce, collards, kale and carrots.
“There’s something about just having a tiny little seed grow into a giant plant that can feed plenty of people,” said Helmbreck. “I think it’s valuable.”
Helmbreck added that there is a food security issue in Albion because Family Fare is the only grocery store in town.
“A lot of people in Albion won’t have access to driving to Jackson and going to Meijer or something, so I think it’s nice giving people fresh produce,” Helmbreck said.
Reed said that the student farm donates its produce to many locations in town. Wilch said that this semester alone, the farm has already harvested around 1,700 pounds of produce.
“Either we take it to a stand outside of the community garden and we’ll notify the community of Albion through Facebook,” Reed said. “Or, we will take it to the Forks Senior Center; they are constantly in need of fresh produce.”
Reed said that a third location for produce distribution is the South Michigan Food Bank’s food drive, which takes place at Wesley Hall.
Reed added that in the future, she wants the farm to continue to be in communication with members of the community and constantly adapt to the community’s needs. She said she finds the sustainability aspect of the farm beneficial to the community of Albion.
“We’re sustaining a project. It’s something that can continue to happen over and over, which is so important,” Reed said. “We need something sustainable in this space.”