The Grass is Greener at the Organic Farm

by Melanie Prakash | 4/4/18 2:35am

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Farm club gathers at the Dartmouth Organic Farm. Courtesy of Sophie Neuhaus '20.

Source: Courtesy of Sophie Neuhaus

Approximately three miles north of campus, a little deeper into the peaceful hills of the Upper Valley lies a farm “for the students” that offers an escape from the stress and demands that otherwise define the Dartmouth experience.  This is the phrase and idea with which I came into contact multiple times during my conversations with some members of the Dartmouth Organic Farm. 

“It’s only three miles away, and you can go whenever you want,” Annika Bowman ’21 explained. “You can bike there, you can canoe down the Connecticut there ... it’s a really nice place. People think of Baker Berry to study, but you can go out to the O-Farm [since] there’s Wi-Fi!”

Indeed, the Dartmouth Organic Farm, affectionately called “the O Farm,” actually started as a student initiated project in 1988 called “Reduce, Recycle, and Educate: A Solid Waste Management Program For Dartmouth College.” The proposal aimed to increase efforts toward and awareness of sustainability by students on campus. In effect, it produced a composting system. 

The farm sells more than 2,000 pounds of produce every year. According to Charlie Levy ’19, a member of Farm Club, the food is distributed into three categories according to the “1/3 1/3 1/3 Growing Model:” the Dartmouth community (Collis Farm Stand and a campus food truck, “The Box”), the Hanover community (Willing Hands, soup kitchens and retirees living in New Hampshire) and, feeding the volunteers who work there (with their popular pizza dinners, where volunteers can bake their own pizza topped with hand picked vegetables in an oven designed by Thayer students). The farm also hosts a small maple-sugaring facility and a bee farm, other attractions for students who want to get a better feel for the rural sphere of the Upper Valley.  

Research is also a major contributor to the existence and functioning of the Organic Farm. 

“It’s outdoor learning at its finest,” Bowman stated, adding that she hopes to someday work on her own project at the farm. “[You are] taking skills you learn in engineering or environmental studies and making something out of it.” 

Specifically, the farm works closely with the Dartmouth Sustainability Office to facilitate classes, labs, individual projects and faculty research on the site. 

“The O Farm has always been student-based, and it has always been for learning,” Sophie Neuhaus ’20, one of the Organic Farm leaders explained. “We do a lot of experiential learning, so there are classes out there like [Environmental Sciences] 25 “Ecological Agriculture” in the summer. There [are] professors and student research, and we do a lot of testing out of new farming because we do have a lot resources ... so we like to think that we’re trying to be on the forefront of small scale sustainable agriculture.”

But it’s not primarily for research. Clearly with its organic produce and housing of resources for sustainability efforts, the Organic Farm stands for values broader than simply providing a sanctuary for the overwhelmed Dartmouth student. For one thing, Neuhaus highlighted how the morals and principles of the Organic Farm provide a unique work environment. 

“People are interested in getting their hands dirty and seeing what’s out there and doing work, and that creates a really interesting community of people who are motivated and interested and want to try things, which I think you don’t necessarily get on traditional farms,” he said. 

The Organic Farm provides a small and tight-knit community of students who want to enjoy and experience nature and the outdoors in a way they couldn’t have before. This value permeates its function as an establishment. Neuhaus remembers how she knew nothing about farming before she came to Dartmouth coming from New York City. 

“[I] had pretty much never really seen a farm,” she said. “The first time I got to pick something, I was like ... ‘This came out of the ground, and now I’m holding it in my hand and I’m going to eat this later!’” 

Levy also remembers his own limited background in organic farming before coming to Dartmouth. “I kind of fell into it by chance on [First-Year] Trips actually ... I ended up doing O Farming ... and ended up really loving it. I had an amazing time ... They were amazing hosts [and I] learned a lot there. And from then on it kind of just stuck.”

One of the illustrative characteristics of the Organic Farm is the organization of leadership. 

“There’s definitely a gap in the leaderships structure,” Levy affirms. 

Neuhaus also explains that the structure of leadership has been in flux in recent years simply because the overarching principles of the Organic Farm don’t innately endorse strict, one-person leadership. 

“Some of our big principles on the farm is that we like to think that everything is fair and equal, and there [needs to be] a fair distribution of labor, and everyone is kind of doing their own part,” she said. “But when it comes down to more of a club, it’s hard to not have logistical coordinators.”

Presently, for this term, there are six to seven leaders. Neuhaus describes the type of committee structure she hopes the club can one day reach.

“I think that it is something that is hard to manage when the farm needs a lot of coordination [and] needs a lot of dedication, and so leaders are helpful in that regard, but we’re trying to keep leadership and productivity in line with what our values are as a farm,” she said. “So [we are] trying to move towards a horizontal leadership structure.” 

Neuhaus also explained how experimenting with leadership is only natural and in fact, representative of the values of Organic Farm. 

“Because we’re a very non-traditional club with non-traditional goals, we tend to want to stray from a traditional leadership structure, but the O-Farm is also a lot of work, and everyone feels that we need as much help as we can get,” she said. “But I also think it’s a little bit of an ideological thing. It’s hard to think of one person in charge of this great, interconnected thing, where you have all the farm and soils, and so it feels a little bit weird to have one or two people who are kind of in charge.” Their “brand of organic farming” is where everything works together in an interconnected system.

Bowman was really impacted by this ambiance of equal camaraderie for a better world during her first experience with Farm Club, commenting on the noticeable sense of community between the members. 

“It’s just like a family. It’s just really lighthearted,” she said, before returning to the phrase that encapsulates the essence of Organic Farm to her. “The farm club is whatever the students choose to make it,” she said. 

New members like Bowman embody a sense of excitement that upperclassmen like Levy have found hopeful in keeping the facility alive. “I think there are now students who want to see the farm thrive and are really invested in that, and I think that’s really awesome,” she said.