17 Sep Sustainably Speaking
The Poughkeepsie Journal – September 15, 2012 –
by Erin Smith –
Bard College Farm works to feed student diners as well as the community at large
In recent months, a field of weeds behind a student dormitory at Bard College has been converted into a 1.25-acre farm. Construction of the farm began in April, and today, some of the first batches of organic vegetables are being harvested and sold locally. The farm is largely a student-run initiative — this summer, more than 15 Bard students worked to plant and harvest crops, under the supervision of newly appointed Bard Farm Director John-Paul Silva.
The Bard Farm came out of campus-wide discussions of food advocacy and activism. Paul Marienthal, associate dean of civic engagement and director of the Trustee Leader Scholar program, has managed an on-campus community garden for the past 15 years. In the spring of 2011, Marienthal hired Silva to help run the garden. The two shared a mutual interest in food activism.
As Marienthal says, “We talked about food often. Who eats it? Who has it? Who doesn’t?”
Together, Silva and Marienthal began working with a group of students interested in starting a self-sustained, on-campus farm. It was ambitious: The farm would require far more resources than the community garden, and would cost an initial $60,000. However, as Marienthal stressed, it was the strong student initiative that got the farm off the ground.
Carter Vanderbilt, now a sophomore, spearheaded the project. After numerous talks, he got the college to strike a deal: If the interested students were to raise $20,000 towards the farm, the school would contribute the remaining $40,000. Vanderbilt got to work, and along with other students, raised the money in only three weeks. The Bard Farm became a reality.
The farm is now in full operation, but the question still remains: Why does a small liberal arts school like Bard need its own farm?
As Marienthal says, “There’s a lot of questioning about whether having a farm is simply a romantic idea.”
However, according to Silva, the farm is vital to the community.
“The idea is that this is a representation of what sustainable agriculture is going to look like, specifically in an urban environment,” Silva says.
The project’s commitment to local food and sustainability is reflected in the farm’s blossoming relationship with Chartwells, the college food-service provider. The company now purchases much of its produce from the farm. This way, Silva said, “there are values created. Students know where their food is coming from, they can see where their food is coming from, and can taste that the food is much better.”
As the farm grows, its influence is reaching beyond the walls of Bard College. Students have set up “pop-up” farm stands in the neighboring village of Tivoli, to sell the farm’s produce to locals. Over the summer, the Bard Farm hosted educational activities for campers from Hudson as well as groups of incarcerated young men from Red Hook Residential Treatment Center. The farm not only provides food to the local community, but also acts as an educational model. Vanderbilt says that one goal of the project is to incorporate the farm into the academic realm, potentially using it for everything from chemistry labs to urban studies classes.
As the Bard Farm grows, food awareness is brought to the forefront of discussion across campus. As Vanderbilt says, “It more about consciousness than anything. As students and as consumers, we need to be aware of where our dollars go, even in something as fundamental as food.”