The Organic Farm at 40
Providing Real-World Experience Through Interdisciplinary Studies in Sustainable Agriculture
by Martha Rosemeyer, Member of the Faculty
and Melissa Barker '00, Organic Farm Manager
Initiated by students, the organic farm at The Evergreen State College has now been in continuous operation for nearly 40 years.
In the early 1970s, students developed their own agriculture curriculum inspired by the original homestead located within Evergreen’s 1,000-acre campus. Today, the three-acre certified organic farm is used to teach a broad sweep of classes such as small-scale organic agriculture, ethnobotany, visual arts, apiculture, forest ecology, ecological agriculture and the science of food and cooking.
As alumni know, Evergreen's experiential-learning culture often means the real world does not stop at the campus's edge. The organic farm presents exciting opportunities for authentic, real-time student experiences that have tangible and important outcomes.
Serving the Evergreen Community through Direct Marketing
The organic farming program focuses on small-scale farming techniques and relies solely on direct marketing through sales to Evergreen's food service and the student-run café, the campus farm stand and other local venues. Students learn to grow and sell a variety of products: organic vegetables, tree fruit, berries, herbs, fungi, chicken and duck eggs, small livestock, vegetable seeds, grains and processed foods from the farm's certified processing kitchen.
Collaborating with Community Non-Profits and State Agencies
Students work with local non-profits, community groups and state agencies such as the Department of Ecology on farm- and food-based issues and programs.
Independent Studies Unite Theory with Practice
Through farm-based independent studies, students have designed and built a 2,000-square-foot farmhouse/classroom, a community garden, a permaculture garden, a biodiesel facility, a compost facility, a composting toilet, a cob oven and a processing kitchen.
It's the Real World, not a Lab
Agricultural challenges need not be invented by faculty members or modeled on computers. There are plenty of real complications: farming in an increasingly tall forest, the buildup of soil-borne plant disease and a lack of facilities to accommodate larger classes.
Campus Collaboration to Plan the Future
The combination of the organic farm’s educational and business nature means that employee salaries are paid through the academic division of the college, while the farm's operational budget comes directly from the farming enterprises. This creates a lopsided cost/income ratio. One potential solution is to expand the farm. Upcoming programs will offer students the challenge of developing a community vision and consensus for the organic farm. This process will culminate in a 10-year planning document. Concurrently, a student team is designing a green classroom/lab/teaching kitchen and greenhouse.
Alumni are critical partners in the future of the farm and its teaching role. Large numbers of alumni are farmers, organic chefs and sustainable restaurant owners. Others work in food justice, urban agriculture and community garden management. Probably most are appreciative consumers, thereby contributing to dynamic local food economies. In Olympia, the heart of that community is the Olympia Farmers Market. In western Washington, alumni have contributed to a renaissance in farming. One indicator of this trend is the over-capacity campus audience that turned out last summer to hear organic farmer Joel Salatin talk about his Polyface Farm (article in this issue).
The organic farm has taken on a new role as the Center for Ecological Learning and Living—a product of the rapid integration of agriculture, green building and food culture. For more information on this exciting development, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.