Regrowing the PSU College Farm

I met recently with Jeremy Bean of the PSU Sustainability Institute (launched in January 2013 from the merger of the Center for Sustainabilty and the Campus Sustainability Office) to learn about his plans for “Regrowing the Penn State Student Farm” – the title of a recent presentation prepared for an AASHE conference by Jeremy, Alyssa Kalter, Ely Engle and Rachel Hoh. The student farm falls within the Sustainability Institute’s mission to infuse sustainability throughout the campus and create “living laboratories” for students.


Students at a recent Real Food Challenge meeting, Alyssa Kalter at right. Photo from OnwardState

Alyssa Kalter is a Sustainability Institute intern, currently leading a student project to organize a Local Foods Dinner for April 23 in Redifer Commons: Real Food Challenge comes to Penn State.

Rachel Hoh is a graduating senior in the Community, Environment & Development program. She recently organized a student meeting on the college farm project: Student-Run Farm a Possibility at Penn State.

Ely Engle is currently in Penn State’s Rural Sociology graduate program. She graduated from Juniata College in 2012, and helped start a student farm there as part of her senior year capstone project: EES Capstone looks to set into motion the creation of functioning farm.
student run farm

Students at a recent meeting on the planned Penn State student-run farm, organized by Rachel Hoh (front-center). Photo by OnwardState

Penn State had a student farm in the 1970s, but it closed in the early 1980s. The new farm project will be incubated for the first few years, either within the Sustainability Institute or perhaps in the Student Affairs division, to coordinate the planning process and hire the first farm manager.

Ultimately, the farm will need steady university support, like successful models including:

Organizers have already received a few emails from Penn State alumni interested in helping fund a student farm program.

What programs could be housed at the farm?

  • Farming education for Penn State students, with on-site student housing
  • Farming education for K-12 students in the Centre region
  • Farming research
  • food hub facility, aggregating produce from small local farms for packaging, storage, distribution, marketing and sales.
  • Processing and sales of crops raised at the Rock Springs research facilities (most are currently composted)
  • A community kitchen facility for food processing, cooking workshops, potlucks etc
  • Training sites for solar, wind, irrigation system design; energy audits
  • Biodiesel-powered farm machinery use, maintenance and repair

The farm would not run a CSA program, to avoid competing with local farmers, but could potentially be a source of shared produce to supplement local CSA shares (as CSA farmers already share with each other).

Where would the farm be located?

There are several potential sites owned by Penn State:

What university leaders, departments and divisions would be involved?

  • Sustainability Institute
  • Student Affairs
  • Institutes of Energy and the Environment
  • Office of Physical Plant – possible farm equipment donor
  • College of Agricultural Sciences
  • College of Health and Human Development – Hotel, Restaurant & Institutional Management; Nutrition
  • PSU Extension – Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
  • PSU Residential Dining Services
  • College of Liberal Arts
  • College of Engineering
  • PSU Outreach
  • PSU Finance and Business

What community organizations could be involved?

  • Borough of State College
  • State College Area School District – If the School Board leads efforts to restructure the school food program to facilitate local food purchasing, cooking, serving and eating, SCASD school kitchens could link to the Penn State student-run farm and food hub to source supplies. High school students could partner with Penn State undergraduate farm workers, working at the farm and bringing farm food into the high school kitchens, and elementary and middle school students could participate in educational programs.
  • Friends & Farmers Cooperative – promoting local food sales to consumers
  • Spring Creek Homesteading Fund – cooking/food prep workshops, gleaning and other community kitchen programs could be housed in a farm-based certified production kitchen.

What’s next?

Organizers within the Sustainability Institute plan to launch a survey by late May or early June, aimed at university and community stakeholders. They’ll use the information gathered to convene a steering group to design the farm plan during the summer and fall of 2013, leading to a campaign to raise funds internally and externally after that.

For more information, contact Jeremy Bean.

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