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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary's to move forward with sustainable farm

A sustainable farm is in its preparation stages for the Saint Mary’s community by a campus group known as the Going Green Committee, which has been working on the project with numerous opportunities for the community to get involved.

“The Going Green Committee … engage[s] in consciousness-raising on sustainability initiatives, assist[s] in implementing green initiatives and identifying sustainability needs for strategic planning,” Judith Fean, the College's vice president for mission and chair of the Going Green Committee, said in an email. ”We also address matters of environmental concerns.”

The two acres of land set aside for the farm were acquired through a land purchase of 40 acres from the Sisters of the Holy Cross three years ago with approval and designation for the farm use over that period of time. The land is now in the final stages of preparation to begin growing crops.

“We started remediating the soil, but it had all been in field crops for decades … so that tends to lead to the soil deteriorating in certain respects … there's a loss of organic matter, and there's a loss of certain micronutrients, especially calcium tends to get leached out of the soil,” Chris Cobb, an English and environmental studies professor and member of the committee, said.

The ‘farm group’ of the Going Green Committee, which includes Cobb, has been working to take the soil to a more fruitful state.

“We had the soil limed to restore the calcium levels, and then we've been planting cover crops in the fall and the spring, and then … mowing them and plowing them as a way of increasing the organic matter in the soil to make it suitable for growing high-quality food crops,” Cobb said.

Students and faculty have also been aiding the process with the composting program in the College dining hall, as it has been built up and ready for use as the crops will be planted. As of right now, there is a working plan in place for how the farm will be organized and tended.

“The farm will be operated by a local sustainable grower who is going to be leasing the land from the College,” Cobb said. ”What the grower is going to do with the food that is grown on the farm is going to be up to her or him in terms of what makes sense … to earn their living.”

There will also be a term of their lease that will promote educational resources for students to interact with the farm.

“The sustainable farm, not only will it be caring for the earth, but also provide a wonderful learning opportunity for the students and professors,” Fean said.

The Going Green Committee already has ideas of how students might be able to interact with the food grown on the sustainable farm.

“That may well involve … a farm stand on campus, it may involve some food going into the dining hall,” Cobb said. ”But we hope that things will develop in a way that will lead to the farm being brought entirely inside the educational mission down the road.”

Along with the benefits for students, the environment will remain the core of the project, as the College can partake in an environmentally conscious process of obtaining and consuming food.

“We want Saint Mary's students to be able to see … a closed and coherently managed food cycle, seeing the food grown, going from field to table, from table to compost, from compost back into the soil … this site could … develop and strengthen and promote agricultural practices that that sequester carbon that are carbon negative,” Cobb said.

The farm is set to begin in the 2020 growing season, and next month leasing negotiations will begin. Options for how the farm will be put to use might evolve as students are encouraged to get involved and share their ideas. The ability for students to combine their interests with sustainable activities on campus will be easily accessible, Cobb said.

Fean said the farm offers an opportunity for a variety of students to get involved.

“I hope that students continue to learn more about what sustainability is in its various forms and how, regardless of their major, [they] can be partners in making Saint Mary's a more green community,” Fean said.