Penn State

Penn State student farm hopes to grow food, ideas

An acre near the intersection of Fox Hollow and Big Hollow roads will be the home of Penn State’s new student farm — a place that will grow not only food but, it is hoped, ideas about sustainable farming.

The land has been committed to the Penn State Student Farm Club for three years, after which a new and possibly larger site will be considered.

“I believe this is a walk-before-you-run effort,” said Steve Maruszewski, assistant vice president of physical plant. “So it was decided that a smaller plot would provide an opportunity as a proof of concept.”

The original plan submitted to the Penn State Office of Physical Plant had asked for a larger plot behind the Arboretum.

The farm will operate as a laboratory where students will have the opportunity to study food production as well as distribution and marketing, said Leslie Pillen, the sustainable student farm design coordinator.

Food grown there will be delivered through a student-run CSA (community supported agriculture). A CSA is a way for consumers to buy local, fresh produce while developing a relationship with growers. Farms with CSA programs offer seasonal shares purchased in advance of harvest, and produce is delivered to shareholders weekly. According to Penn State Extension, Centre County had 13 CSAs in 2014.

Keirstan Kure, a senior plant sciences major and president of the Student Farm Club, made the land announcement to the club during its Jan. 21 meeting. It was a moment it had been awaiting for almost two years.

“Right from the start there were roadblocks,” Kure said. “Obviously, not having the land was an issue and, of course, funding, but the lack of student engagement was the real missing component.”

The club got a boost in April 2014 when the Penn State Sustainability Institute appointed Pillen as coordinator. According to Pillen, the institute saw the farm as an opportunity to envision and discuss sustainable farm space on campus.

With faculty support and funding from the institute, 2015 was a productive year for the program, according to Pillen. The plant sciences department developed a minor program around the sustainable student farm concept; the food systems minor is in the final stages of approval and should be available for the fall semester.

“It’s an integrated program that operates well beyond the border of the acre,” Pillen said. “It’s our hope that the farm can show that student learning does not only happen in the classroom.”

Centre County CSAs average 10 to 15 acres, according to Pillen, so the student farm is small in comparison and its harvesting output is still unknown. But with the announcement the club’s excitement is building. The first seeds and seedlings will be planted in mid-May.

Leon Valsechi is a Penn State journalism student.