Field trip! [Sustainable Food]

16 Oct

October 9th was a glorious Fall day- crisp and cool in the shade, yet almost luxuriously warm in the sun. As it turns out, it was also the day that a small group of students and staff in the Sustainable Food Concentration visited Amherst College’s new farm: Book and Plow.

After a short trip across the River, we arrived at the greenhouse site nearest campus where we were warmly greeted by farmers Pete McLean and Tobin Porter-Brown.  For the next hour and a half, they shared their experiences with us, which included things like how they each came to farming, how they are negotiating running a farm in collaboration with an academic institution, how they hope to develop viable production fields near campus despite the less than perfect conditions, how they envision the farm will grow in the next year to five years, and more. They also answered our every question- of which there were more than a few!

IMG_1538                 No, those aren’t potatoes. The rocky B&P fields closest to campus.            IMG_1543                                            Filing past seedlings in the greenhouse.

We also went to Florida together. That’s the name they’ve given to the land that includes the production fields, which even in October continue to crank out a variety of greens, broccoli, peppers, eggplant, and more. The plot also houses the field greenhouse arches- one of which is already planted with greens in anticipation of Winter.

IMG_1547                                           Looking across part of “Florida”.

It was such a good trip. Not only did we get to meet new people and make new connections in the local sustainable food network, but we were able to learn about a farming model built on a partnership with an academic institution. The discussion about their goals inspired me to think again about how we can better connect Smith Dining Services with the many local growers in our area. It was clear that not only would the Smith community be eating fresher, more nutritious food, we would be supporting local farmers in ways that they desperately need- all while significantly cutting the environmental costs of transporting our food. It isn’t enough to grow the food- it has to get to local consumers.

IMG_1551                             Discussing farming and distribution methods in the field.

Most exciting for me though was seeing the Concentration in action. I loved listening as the students asked questions of Pete and Tobin and participated in conversations that made clear their deep and growing understanding of the complex issues involved in producing food and attempting to distribute it thoughtfully, all while trying to engage the local community. It made me feel hopeful just knowing that these smart, fun-loving and engaged young women are working on solutions to some of the challenges of a sustainable food system.

-Joanne Benkley
Assistant Director, CEEDS

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