As this spring has brought a delightful mix of warm sunshine and cool rain, the student interns and volunteers at Big Hill Farm have once again pulled out their spades, shovels and rakes. The student-run farm provides a bulk of the Dining Service’s organic and cost-efficient food.
In helping to make our campus more sustainable, Big Hill Farm was created by Cat Wiechmann and Eliza Swedenborg as an environmental studies senior project in May of 2009. Since then, students have since worked through the summers to provide locally grown organic fruits and vegetables to the Gustavus Dining Service and to local farmers markets in the area.
“Each year, we are able to learn from what we’ve experienced in talking with Dining Services. We can tailor to the [Market Place’s] needs and provide local, sustainable food,” Senior Theatre Honors Major and Big Hill Farm Intern Kim Braun said. Big Hill Farm is also part of Commission Gustavus 150, an initiative that aims to chart the college’s future.
Past interns came up with a special-topic class to develop farm skills and learn hands on. Environmental Studies Professor Jim Dontje’s Local Food Production class has had a great hand in not only maintaining the farm, but developing ambitious ideas. First-Year Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major and Big Hill Intern Greg Wiessner is a member of the course. “It’s a low-key class. We got to know each other through field trips, and it has been an awesome experience. It’s just a nice group of people, getting your hands dirty with them and having a meaningful and enjoyable experience out there,” Wiessner said.
A big event this year for Big Hill Farm students was the Student Initiatives in Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Appleton, Wisc. at Lawrence University. Big Hill Farm adviser Jim Dontje and current interns Jordan Walker, Kimberly Braun, Michelle Palm, Greg Wiessner and Renee Guittar spent a weekend this spring attending lectures and networking with other student-run farm volunteers from across different college campuses. One of the more innovative ideas the Big Hill students saw at the convention and hope to utilize in the near future is the hoop house, which acts as small greenhouse, allowing a farmer to plant crops all year round and increase production greatly.
The subject of food health and sustainable growing has been of great importance to the Gustavus community, as evidenced not only by the success of Big Hill but also by this year’s 46th Nobel Conference issue, “Making Food Good.”
“[Nobel helped] bring our campus into the conversation of food sustainability and to support the organic growth of food locally, as well as globally,” Braun said.
As the Big Hill Farm has been running for a relatively short time, many changes are still occurring. After moving the location of the farm from the outskirts of the Arboretum to behind the soccer fields last year, certain crops are still adjusting to the soil conditions. Interns have also been reading up on how to grow more efficiently. Studying crop rotations and new means of composting have already helped greatly. Companion planting, or the planting of different crops in proximity to each other based on the benefits they derive, has made it possible for more crops to be planted successfully and harvested this year.
“I fell in love with the process. I got a connection to the plants and learned the importance of knowing what you eat and where it comes from,” Junior Dance Major and current Big Hill Farm Intern Renee Guittar said.
While there are five current interns working over the summer to maintain the crops, students are welcome to volunteer this spring to turn soil and plant and in the late summer or early fall to help harvest crops. “The harvest ends when frost happens,” Braun said, so there is plenty to work on. There is no commitment necessary to get involved.
“Whether students visit only once or come back regularly, I encourage people to volunteer and contact us. Just come and hang out!” Guittar said. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.