Green Amherst Committee Proposes Community Farm
By June Pan '13, Managing News Editor
The Green Amherst Committee (GAC) is setting forth a proposal for the creation of an organic farm at the College. Written by student members of a sub-committee to the GAC, the proposal calls for the creation of a farm plot from one of the College’s fallow fields and the transformation of the Valentine terrace into an herb garden.

A joint faculty-student committee dedicated to issues of sustainability on campus, the GAC’s main focus this year has been authorizing the creation of the Farm Committee to develop a farm proposal, which will be presented to President Tony Marx before the end of the semester. The student members of the committee involved in writing the proposal are Arne Andersen ’13, Catherine Bryars ’12E, Wyatt Davis ’13, Lauren Gleason ’11 and Alex Propp ’13.

The committee hopes that a campus farm will increase student, staff and faculty’s consciousness about the food that they daily consume. It notes that the majority of food today is environmentally irresponsible in both its production and consumption due to practices such as the liberal use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

“In the last few years, movies like ‘Food Inc.’ and ‘King Corn,’ and books like ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ have made it increasingly clear that our industrial agricultural system is horribly broken,” said Propp, who currently holds one of the at-large seats on the GAC. “Farmers apply copious amounts of fertilizer and pesticide to each crop, resulting in widespread degradation of soil and local watersheds. Further, the average piece of food is transported halfway across the country before it hits our plate.”

“But fertilizing crops and transporting them requires large amounts of fossil fuel. In fact, oil is perhaps the most consistent input into our system. This makes little sense in an age of peak oil and climate change.”

In conjunction with the other student members of the GAC, Propp has been actively involved in developing the farm proposal, which he believes will be a great step forward for campus sustainability. The committee furthermore expressed a hope for graduates of the College to become leaders in promoting sustainability and responsible food production. A campus farm would therefore be critical in providing students with relevant education and experience.

“As a progressive institution situated in a hotbed of sustainable agriculture, it only makes sense that Amherst College looks at ways to fix this broken system,” said Propp. “Many of our peers have already developed comprehensive farms.”

Comparable institutions including Middlebury, Bowdoin, Oberlin and Dickinson Colleges have successfully developed and maintain community farms complemented by educational workshops, community outreach programs and sustainable energy initiatives.

The GAC’s proposed farm would not be the College’s first venture into organic agriculture on campus. A small plot currently exists behind Humphries House. Funded by the Amherst Association of Students, this garden supplies produce for Humphries House and local food banks but has little impact on the wider student population.

The new hybrid farm project, with its herb garden located in front of Valentine and a larger farm on Tuttle Hill, would promote greater student engagement. Furthermore, the committee believes, benefits derived from such a campus farm would include an improved dining experience, community engagement, academic opportunities and greater campus sustainability.

The College considers itself deeply committed to sustainability. “We strive to set an example of responsible stewardship by establishing sound policies and practices that promote resource conservation and minimize our environmental impact,” reads the Green Amherst page on the College website. “Sustainability is a core principle that guides all of Amherst College’s operation — from the food served to the vehicles driven.”

Dining Services also supports green efforts such as buying locally grown produce. “Not only does such an initiative promote support of local businesses and the local economy, it also promotes sustainability.”

Kim Bain ’14 thought a campus farm would dovetail nicely with Dining Services’ locally-oriented ambitions.

“It would be a perfect complement to [their] mission statement if students became involved in the ‘locally grown’ aspect of it all,” said Bain. “I myself love gardening, so being a part of helping to develop a community farm is something that appeals to me. I think it’d also be great for the student body at large.”

“Doing some farm work could be fun,” agreed Lester Hu ’13. “And it will be a good way of community bonding.”

Members of the GAC along with students from the Green Amherst Project tabled at Valentine on Tuesday this week in order to gather signatures for a student petition to supplement the farm proposal. The committee will also be hosting a meeting on the proposal at 8 p.m. on Wed., Dec. 8, in Chapin 203.

Issue 11, Submitted 2010-12-08 03:35:54