A Renewable Resource: The Farm at Davidson College

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pgs6-7_A-Renewable-Resource-shovelThere may really be nothing new under the sun in this world—but there’s plenty that’s re-new coming out of the earth at The Farm at Davidson College.

Davidson bought the 109-acre McIntosh Farm contiguous to campus on Grey Road in 2008, and soon planted the seeds there for farming as a standalone business unit of the college.

College students eat differently today than even a few short years ago. In 2005, Vail Commons underwent a $2 million renovation and hired a professional executive chef. That commitment resonated with a growing awareness across the nation and across campus of the benefits of good food and good nutrition.

Now, The Farm is an important and growing piece in the big picture of supplying fresh, healthy food to Vail Commons, Davis Café and Much Ado Catering. It’s also an instructive lab and classroom for many and varied academic pursuits.

In 1838, the Trustees of the college opined: “The efforts of all enlightened men should be combined to improve the moral condition of society by rendering manual labor more reputable and inviting. This is not to be done solely by pronouncing eulogies, but, as time and circumstances will permit, by holding the spade, the axe, the plow, and the plane.”

Read on for a closer look at how that sentiment is playing out down on The Farm at Davidson College in 2014.

A Renewable Resource: The Farm at Davidson College

Small Farmer, Good Business

It is easy to imagine the 1838 Trustees giving an approving nod to Farm Manager Theresa Allen, pictured on the previous page. With decades of successful farming and small-business experience, she also worked as lead horticulturalist at Spelman College in Atlanta.

Sowing the Seedspgs6-7_A-Renewable-Resource-glove
The Duke Endowment has been instrumental in bringing The Farm to fruition, supporting the college’s initial business plan with funding for capital start up costs the first two years. A primary goal is to make The Farm a working model for other colleges and universities.

Undercover Farming
The Farm has a 16 x 42-foot propagation greenhouse, and a 30 x 96-foot “high tunnel” that allows year-round growth.

Zero-based Business
Sustainability at Davidson includes economic sustainability. As a supplier, The Farm must meet the same price points as all other suppliers, thus without adding any cost to student food bills. Any eventual Farm profit would be used to purchase other local farms’ products for college consumption.

Chicken Parm, Anyone?
Vail Commons used 266 pounds of pesto from all sources last year. The Farm was able to provide enough basil for Commons’ pesto needs until mid-November. If it takes two-and-a-half pounds of fresh basil to make three pounds of pesto for the walk-in freezer, how much basil will The Farm produce this year to meet its goal of supplying Commons for the whole year?

pgs6-7_A-Renewable-Resource-appleApple, McIntosh?
Many alumni remember longtime college mechanic Ruben McIntosh, who retired in 2007. To honor his farming family, a McIntosh apple tree holds pride of place in a small orchard that also contains Gala and Pink Lady apple and Keffer and Seckle pear trees—so far.

On the Menu

The Farm grows naturally—no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. All seeds are certified organic, non-GMO, and/or open-pollinated heirloom varieties of lettuce, spinach, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, melons, strawberries, beets, carrots, blueberries, herbs and even cut flowers for catering.

Green Acreage

The Farm’s 109 acres contains the 1.5 acres currently under cultivation, another acre moving into cultivation in the next year—and room to grow!

Outdoor Classroom

The Farm provides a living laboratory and classroom for academic pursuits in and across disciplines. Students and professors in environmental science, biology, mathematics and other majors have studied, and in some cases published, on topics including vermi-culture composting, comparative pest control, pig cadaver degradation (for forensic entomology, and not on the cultivated acreage!), beekeeping, invertebrate diversity, hydroponics and agriculture-related infographics.

Farm Hands

The Farm provided work for five work-study students last year—Amanda Dukes ’17, Ethan Whitener ’16, Genevieve Rowe ’17, Caitlin Reilly ’17 and Troy Sanders ’17. Three of them have summer farm internships in Ireland, Georgia and New Jersey. This summer, Brad Goldsmith ’15 is working full-time on a student-initiated Stone Fund grant through the Center for Civic Engagement. Tucker Bates ’15 is surveilling the bees this summer, and volunteers in the fields when his genetics research schedule permits.

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About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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