Outstanding in Their Field
It reads like a who’s who list of higher education’s environmental leaders. More than 225 faculty, students and farm and dining staff came from 57 colleges and universities in 15 U.S. states and Canada to attend Dickinson’s two-day Seeding the Future: The Role of College Farms and Gardens in Liberal Arts Higher Education on October 14-15.
Dickinson’s 180-acre farm, located about eight miles from campus, became an incubator for learning how to improve or establish a campus farm, provide students experience-based education working land and growing food, and incorporate, sustainable food and agriculture in to the curriculum. Dickinson staff led hands-on workshops in tilling and composting and guided tours of the farm’s fields, livestock, solar powered greenhouses and irrigation system, and research projects. [Story continues below.]
Dickinson also assembled an elite team of presenters from schools including Cornell University, Warren Wilson College, the University Montana, Green Mountain College, Middlebury College and Delaware Valley College who shared best practices in sustainable campus agriculture. Featured speakers included a keynote address by Chef Tony Geraci, a food service consultant and former director of food and nutrition for Baltimore City Public Schools; and a welcome address by Dickinson alumna Julia Barton ’05, who discussed how a college farm raises citizen scholars. Barton is currently a graduate fellow in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University.
“It was an exciting conference, bursting with knowledgeable, energetic people sharing ideas about how we are using farms and gardens to enrich educational programs on our campuses” said Neil Leary, director of Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education. “Many of our students are deeply interested in food - what we grow and eat, how we grow it, and how we process, transport, distribute and market it. And they are interested for good reason. How societies answer these questions will determine whether we expand access to healthy, nutritious food to a growing world population, while also protecting the planet’s environmental resources and developing resilient, diverse economies and communities. At Dickinson we are striving to educate students who can meet these and other critical challenges of our time.”
Learning from leaders
Many colleges that attended have established organic farms that feed the campus and neighboring community, leading to top ratings from The Princeton Review and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). College farm program leaders such as Warren Wilson and Green Mountain College share more than 20 years of experience managing successful production farms that maintain a strong educational focus. At Warren Wilson, Farm Manager Chase Hubbard manages 300 acres of land and trains students how to raise grass-fed meat products, run equipment and bale hay, plus learn the business end of marketing products to the greater community.
Many other attendees came to learn how to get started. Paul Marienthal, associate dean of Bard College in New York, is leading a one-man crusade to incorporate sustainable farming in to the science curriculum. He currently maintains a “no rules – whoever picks, picks” 10,000 square foot garden on campus and now wants to expand by turning an unused field into a 1.5 acre organic farm. He came to the conference seeking information and advice from institutions like Dickinson where the academic community fully supports and embraces organic farming as part of its sustainability education.
Eureka College in Illinois, is in the initial planning stages for a small campus farm under the leadership of Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Renee Mullen. She brought three students to the conference to learn from veteran campus farmers as Eureka moves closer to its first planting. Mullen said the campus community currently, “lives in a place where we import all of our food.” She and her students hope to change that.
A growing trend
According to AASHE, which recognizes colleges and universities for sustainability leadership through its Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS), colleges are, in increasingly greater numbers, implementing sustainable practices that reduce their carbon footprint and teach students to be responsible stewards of the environment. And, many like Dickinson are going a step further by transforming their curriculum so sustainability education is a thread throughout regardless of the discipline.
“What we’re seeing are sharp increases in job opportunities specifically focused on improving sustainability in higher education as well as current or planned changes to the campus physical plant,” said Paul Rowland, AASHE executive director. “Campuses are fully embracing sustainability as a practice and a way of college life.”
AASHE’s 2010 Campus Sustainability Review of more than 550 institutions shows a 33 percent increase in sustainability staff job opportunities, 29 percent increase in sustainability-focused academic programs and nearly 30 completed or planned campus energy overhauls with an estimated savings of up to $50 million each over 10 years.
According to The Princeton Review, nearly 70 percent of college applicants surveyed considered environmental stewardship when deciding where to apply or enroll, up five percent from 2008. In accordance, more than one-third of the farm conference attendees were students.
Sustainability at Dickinson
Dickinson is listed on The Princeton Review’s 2012 Green Honor Roll, Sierra Magazine’s 2010 list of America’s 20 Greenest Colleges, was given a Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature in 2010, and received the highest overall grade on the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s Green Report Card every year since 2008. The college is one of a small number of schools to earn a Gold Rating from AASHE STARS.
By Christine Baksi
Photos by Carl Socolow ’77