Growing on Campus: 9 College and University Farms Emphasizing Hands-On-Agriculture
July 5, 2016 | Kate Edwards
According to a May 2015 report released by Purdue University and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, demand for recent college graduates holding agriculture-related degrees will increase rapidly through at least 2020. The demand will grow so rapidly, in fact, that the number of projected annual job opportunities in agriculture is expected to outpace the number of graduates by almost 40 percent.
The nation’s colleges and universities must have seen this coming, as many institutions have created or expanded opportunities for students to gain first-hand experience with farming and ranching on campus or nearby. These pastures, fields, and laboratories provide students with training in the full spectrum of tasks involved in farm operation, from basic planting and harvesting, to management and long-term planning. Some raise food for campus dining operations. Others sell their products to the public. Some are extensive enterprises that can be measured in acres, while others are small, concentrated projects working in square feet with all-volunteer crews.
Nine of these farms are described below. What they have in common is their purpose: to educate the next generation of farmers about sustainable and humane growing practices that can form the foundation of our agricultural future.
Sterling College, Craftsbury, VT
At this tiny college in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, there are more student farm acres than there are students. The school’s five acres of gardens, 20 acres of pasture, and more than 390 acres of forest land provide food a fifth of the school’s food, as well as regular learning opportunities for a quarter of the student body. In addition to cultivating 60 varieties of veggies, the farm raises a variety of fruits, nuts, and meat animals, and does most of its cultivation with draft horses, which students learn how to care for and drive. After each harvest, the food goes straight to the dining hall, which is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country for sourcing local, sustainable food.
Oregon State University – Corvallis, OR
As a land grant school, OSU offers a wide range of agricultural degree programs–including several in their internationally recognized Crop and Soil Sciences Department. The school as a whole is totally kitted out with a 122-acre vegetable farm, a 14 acre vineyard, and a 268 acre field research lab. Tucked away into that sprawling agricultural hub is the Organic Growers Club, a 2 acre student and volunteer-run farm that counts more than 300 members. The OGS has been raising organic food for on-campus customers for 16 years, and does well enough to fund its own summer internships. The farm is also well known for its annual “Mighty Hoo Haa and Earth Day Celebration” that welcomes hundreds of community members to the farm for classes, demos, music, food, and work parties.
Evergreen State College – Olympia, WA
Certified organic by the state, this five acre campus farm consists of a community garden with plots available for rent by students and local residents, as well as a permaculture demonstration garden, and a medicinal herb garden. While more community-oriented than most university farms, the gardens still function as a learning laboratory for students enrolled in Evergreen’s Practice of Organic Farming program. Students are encouraged to create class projects that make a lasting impact on the farm, such as planning documents, documentation systems, or designs for new infrastructure. As a result of all the hard work, the school is able to stock a weekly farm stand selling student-grown produce.
College of the Ozarks – Pt. Lookout MO
C of O just might be the only campus in the nation with its own tractor museum. The school also boasts on-campus greenhouses, a seasonal farmers’ market, and a working dairy. Agricultural degree students get hands-on experience at the college’s 154-acre hog farm, multiple beef farms, production garden, horticultural lab, and teaching orchard. And, as befits this strongly Christian college, they have a policy of letting the fields lie fallow every seven years during the ‘Sabbath year.’
Michigan State University – Holt, MI
Growing food year-round is hard enough anywhere, let alone in Holt, Michigan, where average daily highs in January are below freezing. The Student Organic Farm at MSU pushes back against its climate constraints with a 20,000 square-foot passive solar greenhouse that anchors a 15-acre farm. The school offers a nine-month intensive Organic Farmer Training program in which participants learn every aspect of small-scale farming, including crop rotation, farm stand management, CSA management, and tractor repair. To support the wider community, MSU’s student farm also maintains a policy of encouraging its wholesale customers to buy certain products from other local farms before buying them from MSU.
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
The Hampshire College Farm is all about the numbers: 20 acres of crops that yield roughly 75,000 lbs of vegetables annually, along with 100 maple trees tapped for syrup, and 65 acres of pastureland devoted to the school’s 12 pigs, 18 heritage breed cattle, 200+ laying hens, and 65,000 bees. The school’s dining services buy 75 shares of the harvest each year, with 125 additional veggie and meat shares being sold to community members. Beyond the numbers, the farm also provides a public gathering place for year-round educational opportunities for students of all ages.
Warren Wilson College – Asheville, NC
Begun in 1894, Warren Wilson College Farm is a 275-acre award-winning operation with a strong focus upon the college’s core values of Work, Service, and Academics. Over 100 students work at the farm annually, learning grass-fed beef and pork production techniques while providing all the meat for the school dining halls and a well-stocked freezer in the campus bookstore. The farm also engages in mixed crop production and produces a substantial volume of the grains needed for its livestock.
Oberlin College – Oberlin, OH
The 70-acre George Jones Memorial Farm and Nature Preserve operates as a permaculture-inspired learning center for Oberlin College students and the wider Oberlin community. Managed by the local non-profit The New Agrarian Center, the farm grows food for the college and for City Fresh, a CSA program that aggregates and distributes food from farms in the Greater Cleveland area. In collaboration with City Fresh, the farm also hosts a three-week summer camp to introduce area children to ecology, farming operations, and permaculture.
Central Carolina Community College – Pittsboro, NC
The only two-year college on this list, CCCC uses their five-acre farm to provide a vocationally- focused vegetable and animal production curriculum. By utilizing successful farmers as instructors, the school expects to graduate students who are able to plan and run their own sustainable farms shortly after graduation.
Want to start a farm on your campus? Check out these resources from the Campus Farmers Network.