New Student Farm Initiative Closer to Securing Funding

Before the first Haverford freshman was thrown into the Duck Pond, before the first 1st Drinker party was held, and before Founders Hall was built, the land that is now Haverford College and all its surroundings was once farmland. Nearly 200 years later, a group of 19 senior Environmental Studies (ENVS) minors at Haverford are determined to re-purpose a small patch of campus back to agricultural use.

“It took us a long time to decide on a farm,” said Nell Durfee ’14, one of the ENVS minors.  “It was a possibility that managed to excite all 19 of us. I think a really important aspect of sustainability is to notice where your food comes from and have a really good relationship with the land around you.  It’s also very related to experiential learning and future environmental studies minors can keep it going.”

The farm, formally known as the Agricultural Center for Environmental Studies (ACES)—or just as “Haverfarm,” is the culminating work of this year’s ENVS senior seminar.  So far the farm is set to cover roughly half-an acre behind the Facilities Management buildings, and could include an all-weather greenhouse and small classroom for educational engagement.

“We hope that there’ll be a lot of institutional engagement with the space,” Nell added.  “We’re talking to many different professors, from chemistry to English, a whole gamut to make it really institutionally supported and tied in with Haverford as a whole.”

Part of the interdisciplinary fun of this year’s project is that ENVS students get to apply the skills from their majors to create the farm.  “There are a lot of economics and math majors who are just nerding out over funding the greenhouse,” Durfee said.  “It’s awesome, I love this class, you’re taking everything you know and actually making a plan.”

Durfee, a biology major, recently tested the future farmland’s soil for chemicals.  She detected high levels of potassium and magnesium in the tightly-packed soil that were leftover while the space was used as a parking lot during the PGA tournament last summer.

“We’ll probably put down gypsum to get rid of the magnesium and potassium, and we’re planning on having a de-rocking party in the spring to get rid of as many rocks as we can,” Durfee added.

Soil isn’t the only PGA-contaminated obstacle that hinders Haverfarm’s progress. The area behind Facilities was rented and cultivated by dozens of local community gardeners before its conversion into a parking lot for the tournament. “A lot of them are seriously upset with the college and many of them plan not to return.  Even after they’ve been gardening there for fifty years,” said Durfee.

While those gardeners may be lost, ENVS seniors hope to entice others to join through self-organized outreach committees.  One such committee is dedicated to collaborating with Philadelphia food pantries, where farm produce could be sent to during harvest.  While Haverfarm will probably not supply vegetables to the Dining Center (which requires expensive certifications), ENVS seniors hope to set up Crop Share Agreements with students and faculty.

“There are a lot of different options on the table,” said Durfee.

Another obstacle has been acquiring funds for the project. While the Environmental Science Department has covered expenditures on seeds and Students Council has supplied shovels, the ENVS seniors are still trying to find money to build the crucial greenhouse that will house plants in the winter.

“It’s a pretty big greenhouse,” said Durfee.  “It’ll cost over $150,000, but we want to build it great now so that it lasts a really long time.”

ENVS seniors applied for a $25,000 Facilities Fund from the Students’ Council and received an initial investment of $3000, according to Claire Perry ’14. “They recommended we apply for further funding next year when the project is further developed,” Perry wrote in an email. “They feel it is a valuable project and wanted to indicate that the student body is behind this proposal by giving us an initial investment.”

But then the ENVS group’s planning committee received word last Tuesday that President Dan Weiss authorized Institutional Advancement to raise funds from donors and alumni to this special project. Perry added that the group will bring a proposal to the Board of Managers at their February meeting, with the hope that they will follow on Weiss’s gesture and approve the farm as a part of the College’s fundraising agenda.

“Maybe next year’s ENVS seniors can think of ways to pay for the greenhouse as their final project,” Durfee joked.

For now, perhaps the biggest challenge facing Haverfarm is finding students to maintain it once this year’s ENVS seniors have graduated.

“Facilities is pretty nervous about it just because they’re worried they’ll have to handle it themselves,” said Durfee.

The ENVS seniors hope that a combination of future ENVS minors and “hoards of student volunteers” will manage the farm during the school year, while CPGC-funded interns and Serendipity day campers will help weed and plant the garden beds during the summer.

“We want to make it really easy for students to get involved,” said Durfee.  “We’ll have signs to illustrate what kinds of plants are growing in the garden and how you take care of them and when to harvest them.

The need for volunteers is fast approaching.

“We’re going to need so much help next semester,” Durfee said. “We’ll need tons of volunteers to help plant, weed and grow.  That’s the biggest thing, is just people who do all that stuff.”

Full disclosure: Nell Durfee ’14 is also a reporter for The Clerk

Correction 12/9 11:00 PM: Due to errors in reporting, an earlier version of the article stated that the Haverfarm did not receive any of the $25,000 Facilities Fund from Students’ Council. The project did receive some of the fund, $3000. The article and headline have also been updated to reflect additional information about  a proposal to be presented to the Board. 

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