This article is part of an almost-quarterly blog series that recognizes and celebrates the ways that campus farms and gardens help communities get together and do so much more than just grow food. Campus farms act as living laboratories for education, practical skill-building, activism, health and wellness initiatives—and that’s just the start. This quarter we’re excited to highlight LaFarm, the Lafayette College Farm, and its new manager, Josh Parr.
Nestled between the Delaware and Lehigh rivers sits Easton, Pennsylvania, a small rust belt city that is home to Lafayette College. Known for liberal arts and engineering, it was unsurprising that Lafayette students and faculty worked together to create LaFarm, an –off-campus community garden and working farm where ideas from the social and physical sciences alike could be brought to life.
LaFarm Takes on a Life of Its Own
In 2013, as LaFarm grew from a garden plot into something more professional, Lafayette hired its first farm manager, Sarah Edmonds. The timing of Sarah’s hiring was crucial, as Lafayette had just selected Bon Appétit Management Company to manage its dining services. Bon Appétit’s chefs committed to purchasing as much produce as LaFarm could grow, and this newfound support and source of revenue was very helpful for the budding farm. From that year on, LaFarm grew in leaps and bounds, expanding to sell produce and flowers at a campus farmers’ market, collaborating with local non-profits to alleviate food insecurity, establishing a student club, and much more.
LaFarm grew from two acres to five acres under Lisa Miskelly, LaFarm’s second Manager of Food and Farm, and deepened its connections at Lafayette and in the broader community. Fast-forward to today and LaFarm is a key pillar of Lafayette’s campus-wide sustainability commitments, offering a model for how campus farms can not only survive, but thrive.
A New Perspective
It’s into this legacy that Josh Parr, LaFarm’s new Manager of Food and Farm, steps with a vision for the farm and its many programs.
Josh’s interest in agriculture stemmed from somewhere wholly unexpected: the island of Crete. While working on a master’s degree in archaeology, Josh participated in digs on the island and found himself fascinated by the daily life and foodways of the agriculturalists who occupied the land he was excavating. After a short stint in a PH.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania he realized that rather than focusing on food systems of the past, he would rather try to fix the broken food system he saw around him.
Josh found a home in Philadelphia’s multifaceted urban agriculture scene and began reading important sustainable farming writers like J.M. Fortier as well as Masanobu Fukuoka, who advocated for no-till agriculture. Josh took on a role at the Weavers Way Farm at Saul Highschool, and learned from renowned farms in the area, like Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Gardens.
Now as the new Manager of Food and Farm at Lafayette, Josh is eager to bring his experiences, as well as the no-till philosophy to LaFarm. “There are farms that till that have soil health that is equivalent to farms that practice no till,” says Josh. “I’m not religious about it, but no-till really is a great choice for farms of this size, and college farms in general.” According to Josh, the benefits are many. Tilling destroys microbial life, compacts soil, and brings weed seeds and roots up the soil horizon, actually helping them to thrive. Instead, Josh plans to replace the things that tillage does, without disrupting the soil. He employs tarps that kill weeds by depriving them of sunlight, and mulches around crops with straw or woodchips.
In addition to bringing a new philosophy of soil to LaFarm, Josh plans to adjust production to coincide with when students are on campus. “One of the biggest challenges campus farms have is that the growing season doesn’t overlap with when students are actually at school,” says Josh. He plans to adjust his crop plan so that fall and early winter crops like beets, carrots, and cabbages can be stored and distributed to the dining hall during the rest of the school year. He also plans to ramp up season extension techniques to grow greens under cover as far into the winter as possible. If successful, hyperlocal student-grown greens could make it to Lafayette’s Marquis and Upper Dining Hall salad bars in the future.
The Bon Appétit team, for their part, are happy to oblige. “We cannot wait to have more LaFarm produce in our dining venues,” says General Manager Chris Brown. “We look forward to working hand in hand with Josh and as the Fall semester begins.”
Beyond growing food, Josh will continue to support LaFarm’s mission of food justice and role as a place where students can explore a wide variety of different interests through the practice of agriculture.
“What’s great about it [LaFarm] is that it allows students to pursue careers in the agricultural world,” he says. “Whether students are pursuing a law career working on food policy, an economics career, or an activism-focused career addressing food sovereignty and food justice, there’s a ton of different things that are peripheral to farming that students can get involved with through the farm.”