“Fields of Learning: The Student Farm Movement in North America,” a new book co-edited by Dr. Sean Clark, associate professor and director of the Berea College Farm, and Dr. Laura Sayre, a postdoctoral researcher with the French National Institute for Agronomic Research, is a guide to the history and current condition of about a hundred campus farms across North America. A practical handbook that provides readers with an important story of students looking to better the future of our food, our education and our planet, the book offers insights for anyone interested in the sustainability movement and how it can transform the world in which we live.
Clark and Sayre have assembled a volume of essays written by pioneering educators directly involved in the founding and management of fifteen of the most influential student farms in North America. Arranged chronologically, “Fields of Learning” illustrates how the student farm movement originated in the nineteenth century, gained ground in the 1970s, and is flourishing today. The editors have created a practical handbook for student farm management and a compelling set of reflections on the meaning, methods, and benefits of engaging college and university students in organic food production.
The editors investigate student farming not only through the lens of sustainability but also as an opportunity for experiential learning. As students put their hands to the plow, both figuratively and sometimes literally, they create a place where abstract intellectual discussions about sustainability are put to the test and ideas yield to action. The book also asserts that the value of student farming extends beyond the education of those already studying agriculture; it has the capability of teaching valuable lessons about the global market, biology, engineering, anthropology and more.
Twenty years ago, on-campus student farms were largely unheard of, but a recent 2009 College Sustainability Report Card examining three hundred leading universities and colleges in the United States and Canada found that eighty-two percent purchase some local food, fifty-five percent have food waste-composting programs, and twenty-nine percent have community gardens or student farms on campus. “Fields of Learning” is the first book to profile this rapidly expanding movement and to address its successes and failures. By providing examples of what has worked and what has not, “Fields of Learning” is a valuable resource to students and faculty members looking to establish their own on-campus farms or refine existing ones.
The Berea College farm, established in 1871, comprises about 500 acres of land. Ninety percent of the acreage is used for livestock and the crops to feed the livestock. About 12 acres are used for horticulture and field crops for human consumption. In recent years, the college farm has expanded its organically managed land to nearly 100 acres, transitioned from confinement hog production to an outdoor system, and moved to finish its cattle on grass rather than in a feedlot. It has shifted to growing more food for the dining hall and local community rather than producing low-value commodities it an effort to demonstrate what it takes to have an environmentally sound and economically viable farm in this region.
An excerpt from the book states, “In some ways, the Berea College Farm is being restored to an earlier version of itself—a diversified farming and food business that supports the college and community while providing students with work, learning, and leadership opportunities.”
The book is available for purchase at the Berea College Bookstore as well as through online bookstores.