13 Mar Students Look to Start Farm
Bard Free Press – March 2012 –
by Rebecca Swanberg –
There are 500 acres of Bard campus. That’s 500 acres of trees, of fields, a few academic buildings, a few dormitories. There are the fields that stretch from the Levy Institute to the Hudson, fields that span from the Manor estate to an extensive treeline. Overgrown and untouched fields that hide behind the cut grass that Bard’s soccer teams dutifully tear apart.
The 500 acres of potential was the first thing John-Paul Sliva noticed when he came to Bard in April 2011. As a local farmer and the organizer of the Red Hook Community Garden, Sliva came to observe how college students interact with their own garden—and ended up with the title “Farm Coordinator.”
“When I came here, I fell in love with the space and saw the potential to see it become beautiful,” Sliva said. “I said I would commit for the season.”
Sliva was only intending to help TLS Director Paul Marienthal with the Bard Community Garden for the growing season, which ended in October 2011. However, he’s found himself finishing a project in progress—the Bard Farm.
At the end of the season, Sliva says Marienthal was excited about the Bard Community Garden’s appearance and feedback due to Sliva’s hard work. When Sliva suggested expansion, Marienthal agreed. Sliva and volunteers created a petition which about 200 students signed in support of the Bard Farm and farm, food and sustainability-related classes.
“I’m not just a farmer, I’m a food activist. Someone that is interested in allowing others to discover food that is not only healthy for the person, but for the planet,” Sliva said.
The Bard Community Garden is a small but functional garden that is surrounded by a field of about one acre—an acre that is now officially the Bard Farm plot. Half-plowed, the farm doesn’t look like much yet. But Marienthal, Sliva and first-year Carter VanDerbilt have plans.
The farm is intended to be a model of the future of sustainable farming. It will be a no-till farming system that doesn’t disturb the soil and lets the soil build its own ecosystem. According to Sliva, the soil will regenerate over and over again. The farm will also employ drip irrigation, a method of irrigation that allows water to slowly drip to the roots of plants, reducing water usage by 70 percent. In addition to the crops, the farm will also include chickens that will become a source of eggs for students. The model farm will be an expansion to the Bard Community Garden that shows students the systems and strategies that make up sustainable agriculture, Sliva says.
“A farm is for production, which is different than the experience of growing that students get at a community garden,” Marienthal said. “There isn’t anyone on campus who doesn’t think the farm will be a good thing.”
Though Marienthal says no one is against the idea of a campus farm, there is one reason that the plot is left half-plowed and not planted: money. According to Marienthal, Bard has agreed to account for two-thirds of the funding needed to start the farm if the students come up with their third in less than a month. The students’ third will be $20,000—meaning that Bard will front $40,000 if students follow through.
VanDerbilt, the Head of Bard College Farm, has spearheaded the student activism for the farm. Though support and volunteers are available in abundance, funding is not—something VanDerbilt is working to turn around.
“It’s about seizing enthusiasm and making it convenient enough for students to ask their parents to support them in this,” VanDerbilt said. “My parents know that I’m excited so they are eager to help.”
VanDerbilt is organizing tables at Kline, the faculty dining room and the Campus Center to increase awareness. He also made a brochure to send that will include self-addressed envelopes for donations. The Bard Farm is also starting a Kickstarter fundraising page. Marienthal noted that if just the 200 students who signed the petition fundraised $100 each, the students’ contribution would be accounted for.
“We have to pay the farmer. We have to buy materials to put up a deer fence, pay a plumber for the water main,” Marienthal said. “Extraordinarily generously, the administration will cover two thirds of this, and we’re not an agriculture school. It’s not like we can’t live without this, as far as the college is concerned.”
Though an original plan was to offer summer courses for full credit and donate the tuition to the farm, there is not yet a strong enough academic tie, according to Marienthal. In the future, he says, there will be a lot of academic ties. Though first-year and farm volunteer Levi Shaw-Faber says the farm could benefit the Environmental and Urban Studies program, no programs are prepared to take on the farm yet.
Though a formal academic tie cannot be drawn yet, Sliva says the farm will have many other benefits to students. Chartwells has donated $3,000 in exchange for food supply. Options like stocking the Green Onion and Kline Commons have been discussed. It is a chance to bring Bard students closer to their food in a school that is surrounded by agricultural communities, Shaw-Faber says.
“Students are really disconnected with their food. They don’t know where the plant or animal product came from or if it is one at all—they don’t know how to identify the plants, they don’t know about their food,” Shaw-Faber said.
“There is no better way to identify, be connected and bring yourself closer to your food than having your food walking distance from where you eat – grown where you eat.”