Summer organic farm popular

by Kathleen McDermott | 7/17/01 5:00am

Three miles down Lyme Road, just north of campus, broccoli and lettuce are slowly poking their leafy tops out of the earth to be greeted with loving care and a chemical-free environment.

A few rows down, the cherry tomatoes, squash and carrots are patiently waiting their turn. And over in the next plot, an array of Asian vegetables -- foreign to most Upper Valley grocers -- will soon ripen.

Only a short bike ride from the hustle and bustle of campus, Dartmouth's organic farm -- located on a peaceful 200-acre parcel of College-owned land bordering the Connecticut River -- provides environmentally-conscious students and avid farmers a unique opportunity to take learning beyond the classroom.

And with the summer in full swing, the farm is now approaching its most fruitful season.

"The summer's probably the best time to discover [the organic farm], and you don't need any experience to get involved," explained Charlie White '02, an environmental studies major who currently lives at the farm.

White's passion for environmental issues led him to enroll last summer in Ecological Agriculture, a course that uses Dartmouth's organic farm as a living laboratory.

But not until this growing season -- now having lived at the farm since the spring -- did he understand the many intricacies of organic farming, White explained.

The major difference between organic methods and more conventional ones, he explained, is that organic farming focuses on the health of the soil, seeing the soil not merely as a "physical support structure" to plop seeds into, but rather a complex ecosystem that must be properly maintained.

With healthy soil, plants can grow well on their own, without artificial pesticides and herbicides, White said.

The use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides in farming throughout the world has caused a multitude of environmental problems since their introduction in the 1960s, he explained.

Throughout the year, hundreds of students visit the organic farm, Farm Manager Scott Stokoe estimates.

Each term, the farm hosts a celebration of sorts open to the entire campus, bringing the farm its largest crowd. A "Traditional Asian Summer Celebrations" festival scheduled for Aug. 10th will combine a potluck dinner full of fresh farm produce with live music and candle-lit Asian lanterns floating down the Connecticut River.

Nearly thirty students attend the farm's weekly Friday evening potlucks, and approximately 12 commit ten or more hours each week to help with planting, weeding and other farm tasks.

The farm -- overseen by Stokoe -- also employs two full-time interns as well as four part-time interns, including Allegra Love '03 and Leo Pollock '03.

Love explained that working at the farm has given her hands-on experience in sustainable living, as Pollock added that the farm uses full compost in all stages of production.

In their work as interns Love and Pollock spend nearly every afternoon at the farm instructing other students.

"It feels good to work with your hands, get dirty," Love commented.