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Different Term, Same Farm: Farm Club Adjusts to COVID-19

by Mia Nelson '22

During a typical term, the Dartmouth Organic Farm hosts students who come to perform work day duties like planting, weeding, and harvesting the myriad colorful produce produced on the two hundred and twenty acre space. Work days are hosted by Farm Club, a student run organization that encourages hands-on engagement with local food systems through trips to the Organic Farm and educational events.

Lucas Rathgeb ‘22 said that a typical term would include community building activities like cooking together or volunteering at the Upper Valley Haven, which provides meals and temporary shelter to food- and housing-insecure people in the Upper Valley. In order to keep the community of Farm Club alive, the club has been offering zoom documentary nights. Two recent documentaries the club watched were “Dolores” about activist for the rights of migrant farmers Dolores Huerta and “Growing Cities”, a documentary about urban gardening in the US.

At the heart of the Farm Club are volunteer work days at the Organic Farm, which allow for hands-on learning in sustainable agricultural methods. During COVID-19, the eligible upperclassmen Farm Club leaders with on-campus access are limited to less than five students, though many more live around the Upper Valley. The vacuum in leadership as well as increased demand for the outdoor, social distance-friendly work days, has created pathways for new 24s to jump into leadership roles quickly in order to fill the need for frequent trips.

Support from the Sustainability Office staff and upperclassmen farm club leaders allowed for the 24’s to become leaders early in the term. Energetic recruitment by upperclassmen emphasized that no farming experience was necessary––only enthusiasm and attending a bike safety training session. The bike training session was developed by Sustainability Office staff, and bike maintenance was provided by program manager Marcus Welker. Once at the farm, the 24’s have the support of farm manager Laura Braasch and Sustainability Fellow Molly McBride, who guide work days through various farm tasks.

Eliza Holmes ‘24 became a leader during the first weeks of fall term, “It was a little scary at first. I was worried to lead a group of people, especially as a ‘24 because I felt maybe I wasn’t experienced enough, but I’ve had fun leading the bike work days,” she said.

Holmes hadn’t been involved with farming before coming to Dartmouth, except for a quarantine garden she started with her family over the summer. Arriving on campus though, she knew that as a self-proclaimed “foodie,” she wanted a new way to understand produce and become more acquainted with the growing process in the Upper Valley, all while finding safe ways to get outside and meet classmates.

Although she intends on majoring in English, since getting involved with the Farm Club, Holmes has broadened her curiosity for the sciences.

“I would love to take more science related courses and get more involved with sustainability and earth sciences on campus,” she said. Recently, Holmes was excited about planting garlic.

“Before coming to Dartmouth, I had never seen garlic get planted, and now I’m telling everyone I know that we should plant garlic!” she said.

While she wishes the club could spend more time actually at the farm, biking takes time and everyone bikes with different speeds. Holmes’ desire to be on the farm more is a good problem to have. Though the farm has an ideal set up for social distancing, it is clear from student feedback that engagement will endure no matter what the future has in store.

Even in a term unlike any other, farm club remains an integral part of campus life. Rathgeb is glad that ‘24s are able to participate in the club that, “Nourishes his mind and his belly.”

For any new students nervous to come and join the club’s numerous activities, Holmes advises, “Just do it. It’s really fun and rewarding once you get to the farm.”

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