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Field of Sustainable Dreams

Students have worked for the first time this year on the single-acre Student Farm at Penn State, part of the interdisciplinary Sustainable Food Systems Program.
September 27, 2016

The Student Farm at Penn State is part of a living laboratory for engagement in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

You can do a lot with one acre if you don't mind getting your hands dirty.

Interns who have worked during summer 2016 on the Student Farm at Penn State grew both food and knowledge, putting a lot of love into a bumper crop while soaking up tons of experience.

“We have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil in field one. I think we have around 900 tomato plants. We’ve got kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts..." Sustainable Student Farm Design Coordinator Leslie Pillen said.

The farm, established in 2016 on a single acre on University Park campus, falls under the umbrella of the interdisciplinary Sustainable Food Systems Program, which strives to make Penn State a living laboratory for engagement in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The program strategically links classroom education with experiential education, research, and community outreach. Students from diverse backgrounds and academic interests grow crops and gain a respect for the land and how to sustain it. 

The program involves research done by Pillen and Kathleen Wood, who were both working on their master's degrees in rural sociology in 2013. Their research explored the social processes and structures of farm internships and land-link programs, and studied the implications of these for providing the necessary resources to new farmers. 

Flagship components of the Sustainable Food Systems Program include the Student Farm, a highly active Student Farm Club, and myriad opportunities for collaborations across the Penn State curriculum. All who are engaged in the program share common goals that underlie their work: enhance education, cultivate community, and grow local food access. 

Pillen said that only about 20 percent of students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences grew up on farms, so the project is a good way for them to get hands-on experience. 

"I’ve gone from being a girl who despised cucumbers and carrots to a co-founder, co-director and current summer intern for the Student Farm at Penn State." —Hayly Hoch

Student interns are involved in every step of the farming process, from growing and harvesting crops to packing and delivering products to members. During the first growing season, summer 2016, the farm sold produce through two channels: Campus Supported Agriculture (CSA), through which members can purchase produce weekly, and wholesale distribution to University entities such as The Nittany Lion Inn and University Park campus dining halls.

"I have learned more than I ever thought I could. From knowing when to harvest a specific crop to running the BCS (our walk behind tractor) and then how to fix it when it breaks." —Quiana Dickson

To see the entire team that handles the Student Farm, discover all the farm includes, and learn more about the Sustainable Food Systems Program, visit:


Editorial notes

—Quotes from Quiana Dickson and Hayly Hoch came from the student intern blog on the Student Farm website.
—Top photo: Michael Cahill, graduate student in Agricultural Extension and Education; image by Michelle Bixby


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