‘Tis the Season! Campus Farms and Gardens


Mills College Community Botanic Garden

By Vera Chang, West Coast Fellow, Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation

Spring is coming into bloom and the Bon Appétit Fellow’s college and farm tours are rolling right along! One topic that continues to excite me on my college tour is campus farms and gardens. I echo Midwest Fellow, Dayna Burtness’s passion for them. ‘Tis the season!

Farms and gardens are popping up at colleges and universities all over, growing not only vegetables but also soil, ideas, and budding farmers. Campus farms and gardens are a reclamation not only of our country’s farmland but also of our education. Let’s think back to how the U.S. school calendar was traditionally set up: students studied fall, winter, and spring and helped with the harvest during summer’s peak season. Studying mathematics and literature was complemented with learning how to grow food. I am not against summer vacation by any means. But I believe that learning to feed ourselves is a life skill that should be valued and put into practice. Thus, if students are passionate and interested in learning farming or gardening, they should be encouraged and supported.

For me, it’s beautiful to witness firsthand conversations between Bon Appétit Management Company chefs and student farmers. Why? Young farmers are the future who will feed us healthy, delicious, and real food.  And the Bon Appétit chefs I’ve met on my travels value farmer-chef relationships, good farming practices, and quality of the food above all. Instead of having to fight an uphill battle to get farms established and running sustainably (not just ecologically, financially too), student farms are encouraged and supported. This is quite a refreshing change from the farm experience at my college before Bon Appétit came: food was literally rotting on the ground. Now, the farm has doubled in size and all leftover produce is sold to Bon Appétit. 

At the Reed College Farm, too, all produce is sold to Bon Appétit. They are now having discussions about the growing interest in raising chickens on campus!  

At Willamette University, Bon Appétit has already bought figs and lettuce, despite blemishes and limited availability, from Zena Farm’s first growing season (the school‘s Kitchen Garden, tended by the Alternative Agriculture Community and the Compost Club)! To say the least, I’m impressed with this style of commitment. It reminds me of the Community Supported Agriculture model: Bon Appétit chefs can promise purchases at the inception of a new farm and help the farm’s grow to maturity. 

At Mills College, there are plans to expand the Community Botanic Garden into a productive farm that sells all produce to Bon Appétit! I listened in as General Manager, Jason Landau and Botanic Garden Coordinator, Christina McWhorter discussed their dreams to stock the upcoming campus convenience store with farm produce and host joint events, including some with solar oven cooking. The college is close to choosing a farm site and hopes to break ground soon! Stay tuned.

For more information on Bon Appétit and Student Farms, check out the Student Garden Guide here.

P1030849BAMCO General Manager at Mills College, Jason Landau and Community Botanic Garden Coordinator, Christina McWhorter