Campus Farmers: College Kids are Getting Their Hands Dirty

A new social network gives aspiring farmers a place to ask questions, find friends, and figure out how to make a living on the land.

Forget Facebook. For wanna-be farmers, there's a new social network in town. (Photo: Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images)

Oct 16, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Back in 2003, when the food movement was just a baby, all eyes were on Yale University, as a group of students broke ground on an acre of land that was to become the Yale Sustainable Food Project. The organic farm’s roots began in a classroom where students first learned about pesticides and the environment. It was followed by a push from Alice Waters (whose daughter was a student there) and Yale President Richard Levin, who saw the potential of a sustainable dining program, a college farm, composting, and more.

Fast forward nearly a decade and the idea of a campus farm has fully blossomed. According to the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association, there are nearly 50 colleges and universities that have devoted campus space to farming. (We believe there are more, but the USDA does not keep statistics on the movement.)

For plenty of potential farmer-wannabes, college may be the first opportunity to get their hands dirty and grow a substantial amount of food. But because many students are new to farming, and those with experience eventually graduate, or aren’t available during the peak summer growing season, questions sprout up, like, you know, weeds.

But until now, there hasn’t been a single resource where students could pose important questions, like how to secure land from your school? How to fund a program so you can buy seeds? Resources for soil testing. The basics of composting. Or how to effectively deal with dreaded Colorado potato beetle.

But a new partnership between Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation (BAMCO) and Kitchen Gardeners International aims to change that. They’re launching Campus Farmers and are hoping to tap into these college farmers via the language they speak: social networking.

“There’s a great new trend of students growing their own food on college campuses. They’re very excited, but they often have no idea where to begin,” Nicole Tocco, East Coast fellow for the BAMCO Foundation, tells TakePart. “This will be a place where they can post questions, blog posts, status updates and more. There will be a resource section to show them how to get started.”

And, two words that are favorites among the college crowd? It’s free.

View Farms at BAMCO campuses in a larger map

Should a student farm operate on one of the dozens of campuses contracted with BAMCO, it’s got another advantage: a paying customer.

“What’s in it for BAMCO? We feel strongly that we need more farmers. If we can support young famers, then it’s a win-win, because maybe they’ll go on to start for-profit farms,” says Bonnie Powell, spokesperson for BAMCO.

Indeed, the food service company already has experience in working with campus farmers.

At Saint Joseph’s College in Maine, farm manager Michial Russell has worked with the college and BAMCO since the farm’s inception in 2009. Today it operates on 10 acres (three acres are devoted to produce) and includes goats, rabbits, chickens and turkeys, and produces nearly five percent of the food required by the school’s food service program. All students are required to take Ecology 300, which includes four hours of service on the farm.

Russell is excited about the Campus Farmers launch, and hopes to be a resource for others.

“We’re in a unique position—for as young as we are, we’re a reference for other programs,” he tells TakePart.

That’s exactly what Campus Farmers is about.

“One of the great opportunities for the site is to create continuity for college farms,” says Tocco. “to give students ideas, to see how other campuses do things, and to pass on that information.”