Author Laura Sayre wrote, “A student farm is … a place where abstract intellectual discussions about sustainability are put to the test, where ideals yield to action. It is in that transition from theory to practice, that physical testing, that the most radical and compelling forms of learning take place.” The Pomona College Organic Farm is such a place, allowing hands-on application of the concepts we study in class and providing rich opportunities for personal exploration.
Farms have been used in academic settings since the late 19th century, when agriculture first started to be taught formally. However, at the Claremont Colleges and other liberal arts colleges, integrating student farms into the curriculum is still a relatively new concept. It may be true that few of us are planning to go on to careers in agriculture, but a campus farm is a fantastic resource for everyone, not just future farmers. Learning to grow your own food is an incredibly valuable skill and a key step in becoming an informed consumer. If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty while studying sustainable agriculture, try professor Richard Hazlett’s Food, Land, and the Environment course, offered at the Farm every spring. If the political, economic, and social context of the contemporary American food system intrigues you, the Farm can supplement your work in courses such as Political Economy of Food or Environmental Justice. Whether it’s discussing sustainable architecture in the super-adobe dome on the West Farm or studying soil horizons on the East Farm, coming to the Farm with a formal course is a way to make abstract academic discussions tangible and real.
Just as academics are only one part of the learning we do in college, formal coursework is just one of the many ways that you can interact with the Farm. Discussions of sustainability shouldn’t be confined to the classroom, and the Farm provides a way to actively engage with this nebulous, hard-to-define concept. What does it mean to be a Green College, an honor Pomona College received this year from the Princeton Review, or to talk about sustainable agriculture? Look no farther than the compost program. Student compost drivers and Farm employees put sustainability into practice at the Farm every day, recycling much of Pomona’s food waste and returning nutrients to the soil to grow vegetables and fruits.
If you’ve ever spent a quiet hour reading at one of the tables on the West Farm or joined in a Friday morning yoga session, you know that the Farm can be a place for personal exploration as well. Masanobu Fukuoka, one of the quintessential voices in sustainable agriculture, writes that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Living in the dorms, it can be easy to get caught up in the busy, noisy whirl of campus life, rushing from class to practice to dinner to club meetings to parties and being constantly surrounded by people. 5C students rarely step away from the rush and head down to the Farm, but doing so for a moment can give you space to reflect on the bigger questions: Who do you want to be and how do you want to live?
Whether you’re planning to be a farmer or not, the Pomona Farm has something to offer you. It may be academic: Try asking your professors in the spring if you can meet in the outdoor classroom or use the Farm for a research project. Alternatively, you may find the Farm most useful as a space for making abstract discussions of sustainability real or engaging in a bit of quiet reflection. Either way, head down to the Farm. Opportunities for engagement are ripe, and soon the figs will be, too.
Jennifer Schmidt PO ’14 is an environmental analysis major and a Farm Leader at the Organic Farm.