Like Cypher enjoying a juicy steak in The Matrix, ignorance is bliss when it comes to our food. For years we have been eating products without knowing where they came from, how they were grown (or created), or how they got to us. But lately it has been really hard to stay ignorant. Michael Pollan and Food, Inc. have shown us the ugly truth of how unsustainable and unhealthy our food practices are. College campuses, historically on the forefront of social change, are leading the way toward a greener America. Of the many schools across the country enacting some kind of green activities, here are 10 colleges growing their own food.
Green Mountain College They don’t call it Green Mountain for nothing. At this liberal arts school in Vermont, students come to Cerridwen Farm to learn how to harvest hay without tractors, drive oxen, butcher livestock, and shear sheep, not to mention grow organic produce. Food growing began at Green Mountain in 1997 with a half-acre garden, but today the four-acre farm provides food for the campus dining halls and reuses food waste from the very same halls as compost to grow more produce. The farm also produces its own pickles, eggs, honey, and coming soon, milk.
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine Here on the shores of Sebago Lake in Standish, students are tackling the issue of sustainability on two different fronts. Their one-acre garden was started in 2008 to contribute food to both the school cafeteria and Catherine’s Cupboard, St. Joe’s food pantry. The farm also raises turkeys, chickens, and sheep. To keep the dining halls supplied with fresh bok choy, herbs, radishes, and peas through the New England winters, the school grew vegetables in two “hoop houses” and in the basement of the marketing building under grow lights.
Deep Springs College Very little of the college experience at Deep Springs is typical. The student body is 26 men (although women will soon be admitted for the first time). This school in the California desert was founded in 1917 to make young men well-rounded citizens, with manual labor supplementing their academics. Today the school grows 350 tons of pesticide-free alfalfa, most of which it feeds to its 300 head of cattle that are herded by student cowboys. The men also work the school’s garden and farm, tending a fruit orchard, a greenhouse, 100 rows of vegetables, and a chicken coop.
Wilson College The Fulton Center for Sustainable Living is the heart of green activity at Wilson College in Pennsylvania. The Fulton Farm covers seven acres and is devoted to environmental sustainability. That means no pesticides or fertilizers and minimal use of non-renewables. Like many schools, Wilson participates in a CSA (community supported agriculture) to train locals about green farming and provide them with organic food options. The farm also supplies the dining hall on campus with whatever crops are in season. Cherry tomatoes are a particular student favorite.
Duke University Duke is a newcomer to campus agriculture, but its first year was a very successful one. Students built the project from the ground up around the slogan “One Year, One Acre.” The year was 2011, and the one acre produced 5,000 pounds of produce. Volunteer students did it all with only one piece of machinery: a rototiller that they plan to stop using as they strive to become even more eco-friendly. As it is, they use no harsh chemicals on their crops, which they grow year-round. There are leafy greens in the spring, tomatoes and watermelon in the summer, and pumpkins and acorn squash in the fall before they move the operation into the hoop house for the winter.
Warren Wilson College Warren Wilson has been green since before Al Gore was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Students from the school have run a farm in the Swannanoa Valley of North Carolina since 1894. The crops rotate among alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and grains that are fed to the farm’s hogs and chickens. They also boast 100% grass-fed cattle. On campus, students tend a three-acre organic garden of veggies, fruits, and flowers, plus an apple orchard and three hoop houses, with the help of two Belgian workhorses. Because the school requires 15 hours of campus service per week, the garden is never short of workers.
Berea College Berea is another college that has been growing food for more than a century. A 1.5-acre garden was set up on campus way back in 1871. Over the years, tobacco was dropped as a crop, the garden expanded to five acres, and in 1998 it became fully organic. Today the main crops are mushrooms, herbs, greens, and honey. For a small fee, members of the community can rent plots in the garden to grow their own food. On the nearly 500-acre Berea College Farm, students raise corn, soybeans, wheat, grass, turnips, and hay, which is used to feed the cattle, goats, and pigs the farm also houses.
Cornell University The Dilmun Hill Student Farm has been Cornell’s place for sustainable, organic farming for more than 10 years. Student volunteers seek to engage the student body with the farm as much as possible, putting on work parties so that students can try their hands at farming, and by providing Cornell Dining with fresh produce at certain times of the year. Cornell also produces food in the lab through its hydroponics and aquaponics programs. Working with a local high school, a professor from Cornell oversees the growth of up to 8,000 pounds of tilapia grown through sustainable aquaculture methods.
Rutgers University At five acres, Rutgers claims to have the largest organic student-run farm in the country. That’s not really the case, but it’s no lie that sustainability is alive and well at Rutgers. The farm was started in 1993 as a CSA operation. Students grow everything from chard, kale, fennel, and eggplant to herbs like catnip, chamomile, and chives. Much of the farm’s produce is donated to low-income families and charities. Under the Garden of Eden campaign, students involved with the farm spread the message of organic food on campus. Each Wednesday, lettuce grown by students is available for purchase in the Neilson Dining Hall.