Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Regrowing the Farm

“The Trustees…shall have power, and it shall be their duty… to maintain on the Palo Alto estate a farm for instruction in agriculture in all its branches.”

You might not recognize that quote, but it comes straight from Stanford’s founding charter. And it’s part of why we still refer to our campus as “the Farm.” While life on the Farm has changed considerably since those words were first written in 1885, we believe the Stanfords’ founding words are no less – and perhaps even more – important now.

In 2009, the Dean of Earth Sciences and the Stanford Farm Educator proposed the creation of a new two-acre production farm on campus.

The proposed farm would provide a valuable opportunity for students to engage in hands-on learning about food systems. As we confront many of the environmental, social, and economic problems facing our world, it is increasingly apparent that our conventional food systems are in need of significant reform. We face growing food insecurity, a national obesity epidemic, factory farms that lead to pathogenic resistance, and marine dead zones from fertilizer and pesticide overuse — which are all signs of the large disconnect between our farms and our plates.

But these problems are also powerful opportunities. Each of these challenges reflects a chance for us to transform how we connect with the food that nourishes our bodies.

A production farm will allow us to do just that. It will provide students with opportunities to directly apply their classroom knowledge, conduct research, and perhaps even find innovative ways of producing food. For the growing number of undergraduates looking to pursue careers in this field, the farm will be a valuable resource, a kind of living laboratory for the study of sustainable food and agriculture.

More broadly, a new farm will provide undergraduates with opportunities to engage in hands-on learning. For a place called the Farm, there are surprisingly few outlets for students to actually learn about farming: only a handful of gardens exist on campus, and the current community farm is largely taken up by graduate student, faculty, and staff plots. Yes, there are classes on agricultural economics, farmworker healthcare, and the politics of the U.S. Farm Bill, but there’s just one class on campus where students can learn how to actually grow their own food: Earth Systems 180B, Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture. And it’s consistently oversubscribed.

An on-campus production farm will help meet this growing student demand and reconnect students with the source of their food. By sourcing this campus-produced food to dining halls and the Stanford Produce Stand, we can help close the loop on our university’s food system. Not only will a new farm provide opportunities for students, it will provide Stanford with an opportunity to become a leader among universities in food system sustainability.

In support of this project, students this year formed the Stanford Farm Project, an initiative meant to educate and gather support for this much-needed resource on campus. The Stanford Farm Project is currently circulating a petition for the Stanford community to show support for the creation of the proposed two-acre farm. We believe student involvement is necessary in the entire process – from planning to implementation and beyond – to create a resource that best suits students’ academic needs.

A few years ago, students succeeded in creating a sustainable food coordinator position within Stanford Dining, resulting in more sustainable purchasing decisions and initiatives in our dining halls. We now ask the administration to again respond to the requests of its students by providing a place for education about an area of study as important and interdisciplinary as food and agriculture.

125 years ago, the Stanfords recognized the importance of hands-on agricultural education. Today, we strongly believe that education about agriculture and sustainable food systems is essential to understanding the challenges we now face and will continue to face as future leaders.

Jenny Rempel ’12
Yoshika Crider ’12