More than just veggies

L-R, Northwoods steward Jenn Garvin ’14, student garden manager Margot Reisner ’13, and Northwoods steward Sondra Lipshutz ’13 harvest organic vegetables for a Skidmore campus event this August.

L-R, Northwoods steward Jenn Garvin ’14, student garden
manager Margot Reisner ’13, and Northwoods steward
Sondra Lipshutz ’13 harvest organic vegetables for a
Skidmore campus event this August.

Five years ago, the Skidmore student garden was just an idea that lived in Laura Fralich's fertile imagination during her semester on a South American organic farm. Today, it annually produces hundreds of pounds of fresh produce for the College's dining hall, provides students with valuable hands-on experience that informs their studies and post-grad plans, and is the centerpiece of a new program for first-year students, Pre-orientation Experience for Agricultural Sustainability.

"Seeing the garden thrive in its fourth year of production and knowing that it's a student-led initiative that was championed by Laura and inspired by students who attended the Powershift Conference in Washington, D.C., makes me proud," says Skidmore Sustainability Coordinator Riley Neugebauer, who coordinates with student clubs, interns, and faculty and staff throughout the year on issues ranging from energy to local food to justice. "Skidmore students have really taken ownership of the garden and care deeply about it, and I am finding that continuity from year to year is not a problem as it can be at other colleges. It's a proven resource that's here to stay."

Officially launched in Spring 2009 and run by the Environmental Action Club, the organic, permaculture-based garden is situated across from the College's main entrance adjacent to Colton Alumni House. Northern Californian Margot Reisner '13, this year's student garden manager (see the student garden blog), says she wants to grow her own food as much as possible. The environmental studies major's ultimate goal is to own and operate her own organic farm. Reisner received a huge amount of support from this summer's North Woods stewards, Sondra Lipshutz '13 (Rockland County, NY) and Jenn Garvin '14 (Andover, MA). An environmental science major, Lipshutz plans to pursue a career in environmental health, perhaps starting out in a Peace Corps master's program. Garvin is a double major in geosciences and environmental studies who is keeping her future options open: park ranger, environmental education, or "studying rocks."

By the end of the growing season, the student garden will yield close to 1,000 pounds of fresh cukes, beets, onions, and more, most of which will be served in the dining hall.

By the end of the growing season, the student garden will
yield close to 1,000 pounds of fresh cukes, beets, onions,
and more, most of which will be served in the dining hall.

Led by Reisner and several upperclass students, the agricultural sustainability pre-orientation program will introduce members of the Class of 2016 to initiatives at Skidmore and the local community in agricultural and food systems sustainability. They will plant and harvest in the student garden which will continue to yield vegetables and herbs into late September, visit and help out at nearby organic farms, and prepare a delicious dinner from the food they harvest. They will also meet the College's dining hall staff, learn about where our food comes from, and discover ways to increase local, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources on campus.

All of this underscores the Skidmore community's increasing focus on and connection with the larger regional food system, according to Neugebauer, who says the success of the student garden was part of the inspiration for students to join up with the Real Food Challenge, whose primary campaign is to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food to local food sources by 2020.

The possibilities — and the work — are endless, says Neugebauer, who attended the recent Farm to Cafeteria Conference at the University of Vermont with Dining Services staffer Frank Esposito and Sarah Arndt ’14, who recently completed a summer internship assessing the sustainability of food purchasing in Skidmore’s Dining Services. “It was very inspiring to see how much is happening, and I see this movement for local, sustainable, healthy food in our schools continuing in our region as well.”

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