Growth on the Horizon: Campus Farm Coming to Bucknell

August 29, 2018

Six years ago, Bucknell planted a seed. That seed became a garden. And soon, it will grow into a farm.

President John Bravman announced last winter that the University will establish a 5-acre campus farm on a grass-covered hilltop above the recently opened South Campus Apartments, providing fertile ground for academic connections, sustainable food production, student life and wellness, and community engagement. Preliminary construction and site preparation began this summer.

The Bucknell faculty and staff behind the project describe it as a natural extension of the Lewisburg Community Garden in downtown Lewisburg, a collaboration between the University and the borough begun in 2012 to address local food insecurity. Last season, the garden donated 3,800 pounds of produce with a market value over $10,000, and provided ample opportunities for hands-on student projects and service-learning.

"We think of these programs as being complementary — their missions are not identical, but they are congruent," said Kyle Bray, assistant director of service-learning and one of the farm project's leaders. "As the garden has begun to fill more roles and provide more services, we've realized there are some things the garden can't achieve — but a larger, on-campus space can."

A Cornucopia of Uses
The opportunities, as the organizers see them, are almost endless, and include everything from long-term research projects to locavore dining to outdoor music and arts performances. To help get them up and running, in March the University hired Jennifer Schneidman Partica, who was working as the part-time community garden coordinator, as its first farm & garden coordinator. Partica envisions the farm offering "opportunities for research not only in the natural sciences, but also in the social sciences and humanities, as economic, cultural and political factors impact how we grow and access food.

"The farm provides a unique opportunity for students to see the intersections of their studies," she said. "In a farm, every decision has a ripple effect."

Interest from Bucknell's faculty backs that notion up. Farm organizers have heard from 45 professors from all three of Bucknell's colleges who want to use the farm in their classes and research, and they plan to consult with faculty to develop more opportunities to do so. They've also received encouraging philanthropic support from alumni, including Rich Robbins ’70 and Bill ’70 and Madeline Morrow.

They're hoping to deepen and extend the sort of experiences that students like Avery Snyder '18 have had through the community garden. A longtime student worker at the garden, the biomedical engineering major also sat on its community advisory board during her time at Bucknell.

"It's so important to be able to teach people where their food actually comes from, and I think having a campus farm will increase the opportunities for students to work with sustainability initiatives," she said. "I can't wait to come back in a few years and see how much it has grown and changed."

Locavore Dining
In addition to providing educational opportunities, the University also intends to grow food for Bucknell Dining Services at the farm — replacing some produce trucked in from afar with organic fruits and vegetables grown right on campus — and to incorporate dining hall leftovers in composting. "Basically we'll be closing the nutrient loop — preventing waste from going to the landfill and converting wasted food back into food by reclaiming its nutrients," said Professor Mark Spiro, biology, another of the project's key leaders.

Spiro outlined how the farm will grow produce in distinct zones encompassing different expressions of agriculture. In addition to traditional cultivated fields growing lettuce, sweet potatoes and other veggies, he anticipates an orchard of fruit trees, as well as an "agroforest" of native, food-bearing trees such as paw paws and walnuts.

The organizers also see the farm as playing a role in creating a holistically healthy campus environment, added Bray. "A piece of that is providing this awesome, fresh, healthy, locally grown produce, but we've also put a lot of thought into other features that would support a healthy campus climate," he said. Those include walking paths and an outdoor classroom or performing arts space.

The organizers realize that the project won't blossom into a fully functional farm overnight, and they plan to sow their fields deliberately and thoughtfully. They've established a 22-member oversight committee of students, faculty and staff, and this summer focused on improving the fertility of the soil and planting a few test beds. In the coming year, they'll be working closely with Bucknell Facilities to design a site that takes full advantage of the hill's potential.

"It'll never be fully done," Spiro said of the project. "There's so much we want to do with the farm, but we are taking our time to make sure that becomes a true University-wide farm."