From Roots to Shoots: Supporting a Network of Campus Farmers
I first fell in love with Bon Appétit as a student and campus farmer at Washington University in St. Louis. I was part of a ragtag bunch of students growing vegetables with little experience — and yet, with every delivery of a few pounds of arugula or cherry tomatoes, the chefs and mangers at Washington University showed support and gratitude.
However, a few professors and fellow students dismissed our work. They thought our efforts were “cute” and questioned why we chose to attend such a world-class university to grow string beans. All the while, our Bon Appétit team cheered us on for engaging in the production of our own food and thinking critically about our agricultural system. From attending potlucks at the garden to advocating for us in administrative matters, Bon Appétit had our backs. This relationship with our chefs and managers meant the world to me as a student and continues to inspire me in my role as the Midwest Fellow.
Traveling to college campuses throughout the Midwest this fall, I met many campus farmers and heard similar stories about partnerships with Bon Appétit. Each relationship is unique, just like each campus farm. I toured the MULCH garden at Macalester College, where students grow vegetables on one-tenth of an acre between campus apartments. La Farm at Lafayette College is over 2 acres and is maintained by a staff farm manager and student interns. Some campus farms such as the Colorado College Farm raise animals such as chickens and bees. Others like the Duke Campus Farm focus on education and community outreach and organize events to engage a diverse group of students and local community members.
Bon Appétit has partnered with each one of these campus farms. Through purchasing produce, backing new initiatives or projects, co-hosting educational events, and/or funding student internships, our teams are supporting a new generation of sustainable food and farming advocates — not to mention sourcing delicious local product!
In addition to on-the-ground support at our college campuses, the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation launched the Campus Farmers Network earlier this fall to provide technical assistance to campus farmers (both beginners and experienced green thumbs) all across the country.
Campus farms come in all shapes and sizes, but there are common threads that connect each of their efforts. The network’s goal is to build off these shared experiences — selling product to dining service providers, building relationships with administrators, engaging volunteers — and provide a platform to share resources and inspiration between campuses.
As the Midwest Fellow, I have gone from campus farmer to coordinator of the Campus Farmers Network, and I could not think of a better way to continue my passion for this work.
The Campus Farmers Network website, www.campusfarmers.org, is a one-stop shop for everything related to growing food on a college campus. This resource hub offers a wealth of information about starting an on-campus farm and includes profiles of campus farmers. Through the website, users can connect to an online document library and browse important farm resources such as farm business plans and project proposals. And if they are looking for advice on, say, extending the harvest season into the winter months, they can pose the question to over 100 campus farmers through our active Facebook group.
We recently added additional components to the network, including an e-newsletter and a webinar series called Campus Farmer Conversations. As a leader of the Washington University campus farm, I found that the best advice I ever received came from real conversations, face-to-face or phone (and yes, my generation does remember how to do this)!
It is my hope that these webinars will bring our resource hub to life and provide an opportunity to discuss both the common challenges and best practices associated with growing food on campus. We hosted our first webinar this October focused on interdisciplinary farm programming with the Duke Campus Farm. After the event, one webinar participant said that the Campus Farmers Network is filling an important gap: we are growing an inclusive, collaborative movement of college student and staff farmers. The next webinar is Thursday, December 12th from 3-4 PM CST. Students from the University of Michigan Campus Farm will share their experiences developing relationships with administrators, faculty, and staff to create the UM Sustainable Food Program and build their dream farm in 2012. Armed with business plans, detailed proposals, and enthusiasm, they inspired the university’s leaders to support their interdisciplinary effort for years to come. Click here to find out how to join us.
To me, Bon Appétit’s support for the campus farming movement embodies our tagline, Food Service for a Sustainable Future. These students and staff who are educating their peers and encouraging others to actively participate in the food system — they are Bon Appetit’s natural partners and our future. And I think that future looks full of hope.