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Student-Run Farm A Possibility At Penn State

When you made your first drive to Penn State you probably noticed that every other building you passed was a farm. Central Pennsylvania has a rich agriculture history, and a group of students at Penn State want to keep that tradition alive right here on campus. Several interested students, lead by Rachel Hoh (a Community, Environment, and Development major) gathered last night to talk about creating a student-run farm: feasibility issues, funding, and community outreach were just a few of the topics discussed.

Hoh explained that Penn State actually had a student-run farm on campus about 40 years ago. Although it has since closed, the Penn State Sustainability Institute has been working on getting a new one up and running for the past ten years. The Sustainability Institute has gone through a recent organizational change, and has now combined all previous separate sustainability organizations into one large entity. Their first major aspiration? To start a student-run farm. So far there have been several meetings with faculty and members of the community, but last night’s meeting was the first to have any major student involvement.

After introductions, Rachel had the students split into four groups: Education, Outreach, Research, and Operations. These groups represent the major concerns and goals of the student-run farm at this point in time. Students split into the groups based upon interest, and brainstormed ideas for their particular focus. Below is a compiled list of the topics discussed in each group.

Education: How the farm could be used as an educational tool within the university.

  • Make farm accessible to a variety of students and majors (for example, how Business and Nutrition could use the farm as an educational tool)
  • Focus on how anyone could get involved and why they should; not just ‘farmers’ or Agriculture students
  • Exploration of different cultures and their farming techniques
  • Internships

Operations: Practicality of the farm and the actual operations within.

  • Location (land behind the Arboretum is highest on the list at this point; is desirable as it is large and close to campus)
  • Establish resources including water, energy, and land
  • Maintenance, management, storage, and (if needed) transportation

Research: What type of research would be conducted on the farm and by whom?

  • Short term/long term research facility (ex: for students’ theses)
  • Research team or committee of students; keeping track of if the farm is working and what it is being used for
  • Contract and four season research
  • Make sure no overlap in research with other student-run farms in the area
  • Helping small scale farms conduct research; those who don’t have money to conduct it themselves

Outreach: How could the farm be used in ways that involve in the local community?

  • Get local grade/middle/high school kids involved with the farming process; learning where food comes from
  • Mt. Nittany Medical Center/The Village possibly using farm for therapeutic reasons; day trips
  • Local community workshops and discussions on related topics
  • Alumni involvement and donations
  • Inclusion of the beekeeping class/club, meat labs, and fungus research
  • Farm could be used as private event space 

As you can see, having a student farm on campus involves a lot more than just planting a few things in some dirt and waiting to see what happens. Having a farm on campus could benefit many students, from providing a work cooperation program where students could get money for class by working on the farm, to a place where private research and learning could be performed. The farm could also help out the local community by providing a space for members to learn about farming and food production.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sustainable Agriculture or the student-run farm, Agricultural Awareness Day is April 3, or you can email Rachel Hoh at [email protected].

About the Author

Catie Simpson

Catie is a junior majoring in Human Development and Family Studies. She's also the resident townie and culinary enthusiast due to a brief stint at the CIA (the culinary school not the secret government agency). She currently works at a Baby Temperament Lab on campus where she tries to get babies to do dangerous things. She's also on the twitter.

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