Tuesdays are the day that members of the Guilford College Farm CSA pick up their weekly bag or box of produce. On Aug. 27, they were in for a treat: edamame.
That Tuesday morning farm manager Korey Erb and his assistant, Tyler Gilkerson ’12, were joined by several students. One of the pickers was Kiera McNicholas ’16, clipping the edamame plants and piling them in plastic tubs.
“I like being so connected and involved with food,” Kiera said. “It’s really satisfying and rewarding. I love how much of what we grow goes to the Caf. And I really, really, really love being outside.”
The tubs were carried to the farm’s wash shed, where excess dirt and silvery kudzu beetles were removed. The plants, heavy with seed pods, were folded into smaller bunches for CSA members.
CSA is short for community supported agriculture, one of the many ways the farm sells its produce. Members, most of whom are College faculty or staff, pay a fixed amount and receive a bag or box of produce harvested earlier the same day.
Kiera, a Bonner scholar, feels like the farm offers great value for all involved. “It pays well,” she said of the farm. “You get quality food and health.”
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The College’s Dining Services is the farm’s biggest customer during the spring and fall semesters. By reducing the amount of vegetables that must be delivered to campus by truck, the farm helps shrink Guilford’s carbon footprint.
Those on the farm can hear the whoosh of trucks on New Garden Road and the soft “pop” of racquets hitting tennis balls on nearby courts. But the sources of these sounds are almost invisible from the farm, hidden by trees and bushes. It’s easy to forget that the farm is on a busy campus in a busy city.
The farm’s proximity allows the Dining Hall to regularly serve greens and vegetables on the same day they are picked. Produce is also available to the campus community and the public during the growing season through a weekly farmers market, usually held in front of Founders Hall on Wednesday afternoons.
The sustainable practices of the farm also include avoiding the chemical bug and weed killers often used on larger commercial farms. Plants are watered via drip irrigation, using well water rather than tapping Greensboro’s water supply. Plastic and straw are used around the plants to reduce evaporation and to deter weeds and soil-borne disease.
The farm was a factor in Guilford being named one of the 322 most environmentally responsible colleges in the U.S. and Canada this year, according to The Princeton Review. Schools in the fourth annual edition of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges scored of at least 83 on an index of earth-friendly activities; Guilford scored 91.
In keeping with the College’s Core Value of stewardship, the farm practices financial as well as environmental sustainability. It covers its operating costs by cultivating a diverse set of customers along with a diverse array of crops. In addition to Dining Services, CSA subscribers and patrons of the farmers market, buyers include Lucky 32 and Josephine’s restaurants and Deep Roots and Bestway groceries.
In just its third year, the farm delivered more than 4,500 pounds of produce to local markets during the summer months. It has grown itself, too, adding an acre-sized field, bringing the amount of land being cultivated to about three acres.
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Among its other benefits, the farm provides a place for students to learn. Tyler Gilkerson ’12 was one of those students. The farm helped kindle his passion for sustainable agriculture.
Tyler began working on the farm in spring 2011, soon after he returned from studying abroad in Western Australia. The timing was right: The farm had just gotten started, and Tyler needed a job while he took summer classes.
Tyler had farming experience. His grandfather and grandmother live on about 150 acres in the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia. Because his parents traveled frequently for work, Tyler spent weeks at a time on that farm during the summers of his childhood. He baled hay, fed the cows and chickens, and helped tend the garden.
“Every day, like clockwork, at 4 o’clock we would go out and pick green beans for a couple of hours, and then I would sit and snap them and watch Scooby Doo,” Tyler said. “They were all for canning. My grandmother probably has enough preserved food in their basement to survive the apocalypse.’
The timing was right again when Tyler graduated in December 2012. The farm needed a second full-time employee.
Tyler had considered pursuing a career in sports medicine, helping people overcome injuries, but he loves being outdoors and the constant problem solving demanded by the farm. He also realized that growing fresh, healthy food is a great way to promote wellness.
The style of farming practiced on the Guilford College Farm posed an intriguing challenge. “Growing in this way takes a lot more discipline and patience and problem solving,” he said. “A lot more thought goes into how the plants are treated, because there is no fix-all powder, there is no magic fertilizer to put in the ground.”
The style of agriculture practiced on his grandparents’ farm offers a contrast to the Guilford College Farm. His grandparents typically grew bush beans, corn and a couple of different types of tomatoes. The College farm depends on a much wider array of crops, including six varieties of eggplant alone.
“We love variety,” Tyler said of the Guilford College Farm.
“It’s good for business to have that variety,” Korey said. “Just like we have a variety of vegetables, we have a variety of markets.”
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Guilford has had a campus farm before. The College produced its own milk, eggs and vegetables until 1943. A photo from 1901 shows Cornelius S. Knight, the College farmer, on horseback in front of distinctive octagonal dairy barns. Faculty members were even paid with farm produce at times during the Great Depression.
Students of the 19th century and early 20th century had often grown up on farms and generally had little interest in continuing to perform agricultural chores while at Guilford.
Many of today’s students find that the farm exerts a powerful pull. “It’s one of the things that attracted me here,” said Will Staples, a first-year student from Atlanta who volunteers on the farm.
Will and another volunteer, Naomi Madaras ’16, worked side by side picking squash on a morning in late August. Naomi runs cross country for Guilford, but she still finds time for the farm, because she believes food and its production is important.
“Our culture is separated from what goes into our bodies,” she said. “What you eat, your body image and your spirituality are all connected.”
Being engaged in the production of wholesome food strengthens our community as well as our selves, she said.
“Food connects all of us.”