by Rose Egelhoff
Across the country, sustainable agriculture is growing on college campuses. Carefully nourished soil on old athletic fields and other underutilized areas is becoming darker and richer, and nascent orchards are surviving the trial-and-error pruning of novices to mature and bear fruit. These student-led farms are providing local food, community, and practical agricultural experience to their young caretakers.
Here are 5 farms across the nation where students are working, learning and experimenting in sustainable food production.
When Birke Baehr was 8 years old, he read about the possibility of high-fructose corn syrup containing mercury and grew alarmed, and curious. His curiosity led to further research about the health of foods produced through conventional agriculture. The more Baehr learned, the more he became convinced that he needed to tell others of what he was learning.
Wanting to get his message across to younger readers, Baehr wrote a children’s book titled “Birke on the Farm: The Story of a Boy’s Search for Real Food.”
Situated on the last few acres of a 140-year old family homestead, Everitt Farms hopes to serve as a platform for a local food district, returning a new Denver suburb to its old agricultural roots.
Located in Lakewood, Colorado, the farm is an urban agricultural experiment initiated by husband-and-wife team Derek and Kamise Mullen.
“We both have really wanted to do something like this for honestly, a good portion of our lives,” says Kamise Mullen. “It really wasn’t until we got married about four years ago that we actually started really growing food and trying to farm at all.”
A center of American jazz and African American arts since the Civil War, Tallahassee, Florida’s Frenchtown suffered under the weight of the 1980s street drug culture, notorious for violent crimes and directionless youth.
Today, through the efforts of teachers, volunteers and passionate young people change is most certainly afoot. The Tallahassee Food Network’s urban youth iGrow-Whatever You Like program and its Dunn Street Youth Farm offers character development, healthy food options and sustainable agriculture education, a trifecta that’s transforming lives in this historic neighborhood.
California’s San Luis Obispo County has a plethora of microclimates that enable farmers to produce a great variety of crops. Promoting a local food culture that takes advantage of that diversity and abundance is the mission of Central Coast Grown, a San Luis Obispo-based non-profit organization that strives to build awareness, production and consumption of locally grown food by conserving farmland and supporting young farmers and urban farming.
According to the organization’s executive director Jenna Smith, Central Coast Grown works to conserve land currently in agricultural production, as well as to educate the public about food and its origins.
“We want the sustainable agriculture movement to grow in San Luis Obispo County,” Smith says. “Agriculture is the top industry in the county. We want to promote local food literacy among the community.”
When Casey Houweling traveled to Tactic, Guatemala in the summer of 2012, he saw firsthand the poverty, illiteracy, and hunger faced by the people in a country torn by decades of civil war. Houweling, President and CEO of Houweling’s Tomatoes, made the trip at the behest of his daughter Rebecca, a nursing student who had served there alongside the staff at a school run by Impact Ministries.
Rebecca was convinced that Houweling’s Tomatoes had the resources to help improve life for Tactic’s residents. Houweling had his doubts, however.
Last month, the National Young Farmers Coalition released Conservation 2.0: How Land Trusts Can Save America’s Working Farms. The report finds that a primary threat to new farmers is acquisition of protected farmland by non-farmers who allow it to go fallow. To gather research for the study, the NYFC interviewed 200 U.S. land trust leaders. One-quarter of those surveyed said they have witnessed a decline in production at conserved farms resulting from non-farmers purchasing land at prices with which farmers cannot compete.
Founded by three farmers in New York’s Hudson Valley who struggled to find reasonably priced land, NYFC is an organization dedicated to supporting new farmers through education, networking, and advocacy.
Access to land is one of the most formidable obstacles facing young people who want to start a farm, according to a 2012 study by the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. The study notes that the price of farmland doubled between 2000 and 2010 in the United States.
A nonprofit organization in Bellaire, Michigan, the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design, or ISLAND, is working to address this problem with a new farmer residency program that will launch in spring 2014. The program operates in partnership with the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, a local land trust that owns the 11-acre property the residents will farm.