Learning from Yale’s Sustainable Food Program
There is substantial and growing interest among Sewanee’s faculty and administration to build connections between our academic curriculum and the Sewanee Farm. Dr. Mark Preslar (Russian) and Dr. Thea Edwards (Biology) are members of the Farm Advisory Committee. As such, they are working to create educational opportunities using the farm as a laboratory and classroom. We share this vision with a more established university farm at Yale. Since 2000, Yale’s Sustainable Food Program has developed to encompass a college farm, university composting, increased education around food and agriculture, and a sustainable dining program that purchases and prepares food from local organic sources. This proposal is to fund travel for Edwards, Preslar, Wright, and the soon-to-be-hired farm manager to travel to Yale’s Farm for four days during summer 2015. Members of the expedition will meet with organizers of Yale’s Sustainable Food Program. We will bring back to Sewanee those concepts and practices that have benefitted the Yale community and can be tailored to help build Sewanee’s Farm Program.
Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies
Our project aligns closely with the goals of the Collaborative for the following reasons.
• We are taking advantage of the established partnership between Sewanee and Yale.
• As expressed above, the Sewanee Farm supports interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary education.
• Similarly, the farm can be instrumental in educating food literate citizens and leaders who are effective, engaged, and socially responsible.
• Farming is humanistic in the sense that it advances through considered application of the scientific method. Observation, experimentation, and synthesis of results inform adaptive decisions and actions to safeguard diverse food availability.
• At the farm, students will engage problems that are best solved by understanding and connecting with place: soil quality, climate, suitable plants, land use history, etc. are all place-based realities that govern choices, activities, and outcomes on the farm.
• The farm can be a place of community engagement. Already we have met members of our broader community in Franklin and Grundy Counties who are anxious to share heritage knowledge of farming for success on and around the Cumberland Plateau.
• The farm broadly supports concepts of public scholarship: environmental challenges related to agriculture are a significant social issue. The farm provides a venue for discussion and implementation of sustainable farming practices intended to mitigate the environmental and health impacts of conventional agriculture, such as pesticide and fertilizer use, water contamination, and fossil fuel consumption.
To help develop Sewanee’s Farm, we will use this expedition to build contacts and derive inspiration and practical guidance from Yale’s Sustainable Food Program. Ideas generated during the trip will be shared with members of the Farm Advisory Committee and any other interested parties. Our goal is to contribute fodder for collaborative activities that use the farm as a resource. We anticipate learning how Yale’s Farm manages diverse crops on small acreage, collaborates with local produce markets without competing with local producers, organizes their fleet of student interns, maintains winter cropping without energy inputs, monitors nutrient run-off, builds social structure around their popular farm pizza oven, and integrates educational links across the curriculum.
As Sewanee’s Executive Chef, Rick Wright’s participation in the expedition is essential for continued development of connections between dining services and the farm, including food sourcing, composting, and educational programming around food. At Yale, the transition to sustainable food over the past 15 years has caused the dining halls to radically change how they source and prepare food. Yale’s efforts required the re-training of staff and significant organizational changes to how dining services handled food purchasing and storage. Yale’s experiences with this process can inform Sewanee’s efforts to become a sustainable campus.
In summary, we hope to learn from Yale’s successes and benefit from their hindsight of failed approaches and projects. These insights should help us leap-frog forward with collaborative farm engagement at Sewanee. This will broadly benefit students, staff, faculty, and community members.