NewsPress Release: 6/26/02ResearchMARLBORO, VT As college students throughout the state work part time jobs, study or just take it easy this summer, six students at Marlboro College are putting their academic interests in the natural sciences to use weeding, watering, shoveling manure and digging to create an organic garden on campus. Students at Marlboro have begun an extensive farm project they hope to leave as a legacy to their school as an outlet for student growth and study--and vegetables. While the project is driven by student initiative, it is supported by the administration, which loaned the land; the faculty, which is recognizing the work as academic research; and the campus community, which is funding some of the project's expenses.
The project involves a large organic garden now planted on a hill at the base of a college parking area. There, everything from onions, garlic, potatoes, and peppers to herbs, flowers, spinach, chard, and beans are taking root. Senior Jay Snyder is working on the farm project as part of his Marlboro College Plan, an integral part of academics at the college needed for graduation. Likewise, he's obtained a research grant from the school to experiment with no till beans.
While most students who obtain summer research grants from the college chose to do summer internships or study abroad, Snyder said he and five other students have been thinking about the farm project for years now. Each of the students has their own specialty area of interest that they are incorporating into the project.
Students involved in the project also include senior Marissa Tenebaum, who also has a research grant from the college to experiment in intercropping; junior Elliot Goodwin, who has an interest in green architecture; junior Allison Lennox, who is interested in community and education issues around agriculture; junior Sarah Grant, who is studying native American agriculture; and senior Elizabeth Garofalo, whose interests lie in healing, health and sociology.
"We've all had an interest in agriculture and have been talking about it since we got here. We always wanted to start a farm project at Marlboro," he said. "Finally, we just came together and realized that we needed to just go ahead and start it so that they (the college community) would know we were serious."
The plan began with weekly meetings where students brainstormed ideas on how to get the project up and running, where the garden should sit, and how to present it to the community. In the spring of 2002, students presented their plans at a traditional Marlboro College Town Meeting, where students, staff, and faculty vote on various college programs and rules. At town meeting, the students were given a rare unanimous vote of support by the college community and offered $1,000 for basic seed money and tools. Since then, the students have received a gift toward the project from the senior class as well.
And the Marlboro College community is not the only group behind the project. In fact, students have received donations from residents throughout the Marlboro area. Items like mulch, hay, and manure have been dropped off at no charge to students working on the farm project without solicitation. "The general consensus has been that people who have heard about our project just want to put their support behind it, to make it known," Snyder said. "We've offered to exchange work for the gifts we got. We offered to shovel manure for the people who donated the manure, things like that. So far, we haven't had any takers."
One aspect of the farm project that makes it unique is that all
the work on
the extensive garden has been done without the use of modern day machinery. "We did all this digging by hand. At times, we thought about breaking down and using machines. Now, we're about 75 percent done with the digging and we feel really good that we haven't broken down. It's been good for us in getting to know the soil and things like that," Snyder said. Likewise, two of the students involved in the project are combining this effort with an experiment that involves living in a yurt. Lennox and Goodwin have been living in the yurt - a round, temporary home that consists of canvas and lattice that was used by nomadic people in early
societies - at the base of the project. The 16 foot in diameter yurt was
also donated by a resident in the Marlboro area who had it laying around and wanted to see it put to good use. They, and the other students, spend all of their off time working on the garden. Students involved in the project spend between 20 and 40 hours a week working to prepare the harvest.
When the harvest is ready, students will not be able to offer it
peers in the school cafeteria because of federal requirements on food
preparation. Instead, they may be able to sell it in the school coffee shop,
which falls under different regulations. But for the most part, students involved in the Marlboro College farm project aren't looking to sell their product at this point. They say they plan to create food baskets for those in the community who have supported them. With late frosts and typically unpredictable New England weather to contend with this past spring, Snyder said the project has gone amazingly well. Because of a late start due to academic responsibilities, Snyder reported that the garden escaped the harsh weather changes and is "right on track" with other farmers in the area.
"Everything is finally taking hold and the soil seems fertile
here. I think
we're in shape to have a good harvest," Snyder said. And with most of the annual crop now planted, students in the farm project are now going to focus their energies on planting perennials. Items like fruit trees and berries will soon be added so that the project can continue on in years to come at the college.
Also to extend the life of the project, students plan to host a fall orientation for incoming students with an interest in agriculture. There, the incoming students will camp out on the farm site, eat off the farm, and work alongside current students. "We want to get them to dig us a root cellar," Snyder laughed. "Really, it's to set up a relationship with them so that maybe they will be interested in carrying the project on."