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Cultivating consciousness at the Organic Farm

A walk through Dartmouth's one-acre Organic Farm with manager Scott Stokoe can take 20 minutes as he stops to give the students working there impromptu lessons in the ecology of plant life. While explaining how to harvest basil so that it will grow fat and bushy instead of tall and spindly, Stokoe warmly congratulated Jordan Page '07 for remembering the definition of an "apical meristem" from high school biology class (hint: it's found at the top of the plant). He showed another student volunteer how a snapdragon earned its name from the spring-like mechanism in the flower's head and another how to spot the droppings of the enormous green hornworms that feed on the tomato plants.


Pam Collins '07 volunteered at Dartmouth's Organic Farm during Sophomore Summer, harvesting crops and selling them at the farm stand outside Collis.

The Organic Farm is a garden that occupies a small section of the roughly 200 acres that the College owns on Route 10, the road that follows the Connecticut River from Lebanon to Lyme and beyond, and students can be surprised to find how much work and how many crops a single acre can produce. During Sophomore Summer this year, a variety of departments incorporated the Farm into their courses, including Biology, Geography and Environmental Studies. One Environmental Studies class conducted a weekly four-hour lab in the garden; another prepared students to go on a foreign study program in South Africa by having them observe the growth of plants like peanuts, tobacco, sorghum and cotton-all staples of sub-Saharan African agriculture. Students in this class, such as Pam Collins '07, contribute to the farm by volunteering to help harvest the crops and sell them at the weekly farm stand at Collis.

Christine Beauchemin '07 harvested fennel plants and spoke about what the Farm meant to her Dartmouth experience. "It's made me want to learn how to change a conventional dairy farm into an organic one," said Beauchemin, who grew up experiencing farms as largely mechanized places.

The Organic Farm, which owns no mechanized equipment, relies solely on manual labor from volunteers, Stokoe and his two full-time interns. Stokoe explained that while this method would not be practical for a commercial farm, the lessons about labor, sustainability and environmental interaction that come from hands-on experience are priceless to students. Beauchemin echoed this thought, saying, "Coming here, you realize what it means to grow things." Stokoe is two parts educator and one part farmer. He said he views the garden as an ecological classroom more than a farm and, in fact, the cultivated land is subdivided into experiments; in one section, corn is grown with varying amounts of nitrogen, in another a student is growing vegetables and herbs believed to be therapeutic to AIDS patients.

Some of the students who come here are familiar with agriculture, like Richard Hansen '07 who grew up helping his grandfather on their farm. Others, like Christine Terada '07, said this was the first time she had seen where food really comes from. Under Stokoe's untiring tutelage, students also learned the difference between food that can merely be eaten and food that can be sold. Vegetables that might make it to the table at home may not be aesthetically pleasing enough to go on sale at the farm stand.

Stokoe said the farm's productivity and student involvement are part and parcel of Dartmouth's tradition of connecting students to the environment, and are unusual in providing an opportunity for them to participate in the garden's life during summer when most schools are empty of undergraduates. Students who find their way to Stokoe and the Organic Farm find that they reap the benefits of that tradition along with the harvest.

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 5/30/08