Student Farm Club Hosts Community Check-In To Facilitate Conversation About The Future

After work began on the their new one-acre farm, the Student Farm Club gathered in the Henderson Building for their first official Community Check-In. The group received approval for the farm plot, located off Fox Hollow Road, from university administrators in January and will begin planting in mid-May.

The Community Check-In was designed to create an open dialogue among students and faculty and to gather ideas on how the Student Farm Club can modify the program to better fit the needs of the community. Co-director Hayly Hoch addressed the crowd with a few remarks on the club’s goals.

“We need your input, your ideas, your enthusiasm, what you’re passionate about,” she said. “We need all of that so that we can really tailor this program and the Student Farm to you so that it matters to you and you feel connected to it.”

The event was divided into three sections, focused on the past, present, and future of the Student Farm Club. The first section included statements from several students, faculty, and staff members who are involved with the initiative. Dr. Denice Wardrop, director of the Sustainability Institute, began with a presentation about the institute’s role in the initial creation of the Student Farm Initiative.

“We look for things that convene people around the notion of sustainability…and we look for things that will totally transform a student experience. The Student Farm obviously does both of those,” she said. “I actually can’t think of anything better.”

UPUA Facilities Chair Brent Rice also spoke about UPUA’s involvement in the funding and approval of the farm. In March 2015, the Facilities Fee Advisory Committee granted almost $225,000 to the initiative for facilities costs, and later passed legislation to support the creation of a student-run farm. After the Student Farm Club had to change the location of the farm, UPUA assisted the group in unlocking the funds and moving forward with the project.

Assistant Vice President of the Physical Plant Steve Maruszewski spoke last, touching on the operational and financial aspects of the farm. Leslie Pillen, the Sustainable Student Farm Design Coordinator, approached Maruszewski after facing roadblocks with university administration. After visiting farms at Michigan State and Maryland, Maruszewski and Pillen found out “how not to run a student farm” and created a vision of a farm that was more economically stable than the ones they encountered.

“I think the way this has come about is the exact way we want to do it,” Maruszewski said. “We want to embed it in education, integrating it into the total university population. I think we’re getting it right.”

For the second portion of the event, Pillen took to the stage to talk about the farm’s current state. The club plans to grow a variety of vegetables and herbs in three main fields. Tool sheds designed by first-year architecture students will line the sides of the property along with open spaces for classes and other clubs. Pillen closed the second section with “big picture” ideas like integrative general education requirements and a stronger support for sustainability.

“An engaged community and a passionate community of people who want to make this work and want to see it move forward is really what’s going to keep us going,” she said.

The final section of the event shifted the focus to those not involved in the Student Farm Club. Representatives facilitated conversation and listened to ideas about the future of the farm. The discussion itself was divided into three parts, each surrounding topics of personal involvement, engagement, and action. Each group shared their thoughts as the session came to a close.

Hoch ended with words of encouragement and urged attendees to reach out with more ideas as the club transitions into its first growing season.

“Thank you so much for your participation,” she said. “And keep the ideas flowing!”

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About the Author

Gabriela Stevenson

Gabriela is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism and one of Onward State's student life editors. She is from Norristown, PA, which she normally refers to as "30 minutes outside of Philadelphia." She enjoys Broadway musicals, neck pillows, and eating cereal at night. To contact Gabriela, e-mail her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @GabiStevenson if you want to feel young again.

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