By: Jill Mattingly
A year ago the wheels of change began turning at Butler University, a mid-sized private university in Indianapolis, Indiana. A group of students started the process of developing a farm on campus to be used as a source of food and education. What began as an empty playing field on the intramural athletic fields has been transformed into a ½-acre urban farm, which produced over 126 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers during the 2010 growing season (Haskins). Some of the unique vegetables included: multicolored pole beans, dragon langerie bush wax beans, midnight black turtle beans, plum purple radishes, purple beauty sweet peppers, and speckled roman paste tomatoes (Butler). To see a full list of the produce grown last year go to http://butlercampusfarm.com/?page_id=3.
I sat down with three of the students who are involved with the Butler Farm to talk about implementing a campus farm, the goals of the farm, and the impact they hope the farm will have on the campus community.
JM: Where did the concept of the campus farm come from and what steps were taken to make this idea come to fruition?
Kaitlin Haskin (Butler graduate, May 2010, Arts Administration, Co-Founder of Butler Campus Farm): The farm concept arose from an interest in local organic foods, sustainability, environmental justice, food security, and the interconnectedness of life on Earth. Our vision for the Butler Campus Farm was to provide the Butler University community with an opportunity to grow and learn. The social, environmental, and health benefits that we seek to provide through this venture include access to fresh food, community building opportunities, better personal health, education, and environmental protection.
Stuart Harvey (Butler Senior, Education major, Farm Intern Summer 2010): Tim Carter [from Butler’s Center for Urban Ecology] was really the person who supported it and said you can do this. And then we got approval from Butler. We just said we were going to start it and see what happens.
KH: David Brodsky [Butler Senior, Religion major] and myself drafted and submitted a project proposal to Mike Gardner, VP of Operations, in December 2009. Gerald Carlson, Director of Maintenance & Grounds, took a group of us from Earth Charter Butler [a student organization based on the principles of the international Earth Charter organization. “The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century.” (Earth Carter)], the Center for Urban Ecology, and Big City Farms (downtown urban farm) to look at potential sites at the BU intramural fields in January 2010. We selected a site, had it officially approved by Mike Gardner, and began working on the site in February. It was a fairly short and painless procedure, especially compared to the complications and red tape that are involved at larger universities.
JM: What impact did the Slow Food movement and the increased visibility in farmers’ markets have on the development of the campus farm?
KH: The strength of the Slow Food movement, the increase in number and visibility of farmers’ markets around the country, and the great potential for learning about sustainable agriculture on college campuses were all huge factors in our decision to help bring the good food movement to better light on Butler’s campus.
JM: What are the goals or mission statement of the Butler Campus Farm?
KH: We began drafting a mission statement for the farm this summer, but it hasn’t yet been finished. Our initial inspiration came from the values and principles presented in the Earth Charter, primarily sustainability with a focus on social and ecological sustainability, and the interconnectedness of life, promoting the ways that living beings are connected as well as the concept that all actions affect the health and well-being of many systems and living beings. The goals and themes that we have developed over the course of the first season include education, sustainable farming, organic food, urban ecology, lifelong learning, and participation.
SH: There are multiple goals. I think the main mission is to educate students on campus. Also, there has been a huge call of volunteers from elementary schools in the area and also people calling from Indiana University and Purdue University interested in checking out our farm and seeing what was going on. Then over the summer we were basically selling the produce. So I think selling the food on campus and [to] local restaurants is part of the goal. I also think it promotes a community aspect because a lot of people get interested. They’re like ‘hey what’s going on with the farm?’ It is just really cool to see people come up and ask questions about it, or come down to the farm and we’ll just talk to them about anything and you get to know someone that you don’t know at all beforehand just because of the farm.
JM: You mentioned selling produce to local restaurants. What else did you do with the produce?
SH: Twice a week we would set up a farm stand on campus where we would sell the food that we harvested from the farm just to faculty and staff really, or anyone that wanted to buy it but mostly faculty and staff since the students were gone for the summer.
KH: Over 2,000 pounds of produce were harvested during the first season. After harvest, the produce went in a few different directions. About a third of the produce was sold at the farm stand to students, faculty, staff, and community members. A quarter was served in the Butler University dining hall, managed by Aramark food service.
SH: Which is really big because if we made it large scale we would be a model, one of the first campuses to grow their food and use it in their own cafeteria in the nation. It would require a lot more interest in the farm from the students on campus. We had a good amount of help but not enough.
KH: Another quarter was delivered a mile down the road to Napolese, an artisanal pizzeria by Patachou dedicated to purchasing directly from local farmers when possible. Then volunteers and hardworking staff enjoyed about ten percent of the harvest. The rest was donated to a food pantry just four blocks from campus. Our total sales for the summer grossed approximately $2,475.70.
JM: You said one of your main goals for the farm was to use it for educational purposes. What educational opportunities are available?
Sam Erdman (Butler Junior, Science, Technology & Society major, Current Farm Intern): A big part of the farm is for education. We have had Butler classes come down to the farm and help us and learn. I have done twenty minute talks about the farm. We have had pre-school kids come out. If we could get more classes to come out and learn about urban gardening and how beneficial it can be to the environment [that would be great and it’s our hope that our educational opportunities will continue to grow]. Also, [another benefit to everyone involved with the farm is the opportunity] to learn about the health benefits and how much better the food is.
HK: Approximately 250 K-12 youth participated in educational programs on the Butler Campus Farm through the Summer Advantage national program. The farm held weekly volunteer periods that were intended to provide additional help for farm interns and also to provide potential volunteers with an opportunity to learn about the basics of organic farming and take home some organic produce to enjoy.
JM: Let me interrupt you really quick; do you get consistent volunteers at the farm?
SE: There were weeks where there would be three volunteers and we wouldn’t be able to do that much work. The main volunteer session was every Saturday from 9:30am-12:30pm. There would be some weeks with just a few volunteers and other weeks, we had students from the dorms. The Resident Assistants would organize a group event and bring over 20 freshmen from Ross Hall (residential hall) to come out and help me. We’ve had people from off campus come over. The Indianapolis Public School system had a bunch of ninth graders come over and help us one Saturday. There were some weeks we would have so many people on the farm that we didn’t even have enough tasks for everyone to do something. Other times we don’t get much done because there aren’t enough people.
HK: We held a Farm Kick-off Festival in April that had the same dual purpose: get work done on the farm and get folks to dig in to the dirt and learn a bit. The Fall Harvest Potluck at the end of the summer was more of a celebratory event, but we encouraged attendees to use as many local ingredients as possible in their dishes, so that may have been a learning experience for some. Farm interns, who worked with supervision from the CUE [Center for Urban Ecology] staff (Tim and Marjorie), undertake a great educational experience simply by working on the farm. We are encouraged to take on a specific project of our choice that helps out the cause and allows us to delve into a particular topic.
JM: How did you get interested in this and what inspired you to work with the campus farm?
SH: I think it started my sophomore year when I took a class called Frontiers in Latin America. We talked a lot about how the food we get doesn’t come from America. A lot of the food we buy in the grocery store we don’t get from around here. That sparked my interest in Latin America. That’s a place where we get most of our fruits. A lot of the people there are being exploited for it, getting paid next to nothing so we can have the benefit of having fruit year round. I think that really sparked interest in locally grown food and why people think that’s better. Not only the morals behind it, behind buying locally but also the health, how good it is for you. Eating organic food instead of processed like some of the stuff we may buy at the grocery store. Then I did an internship between my sophomore and junior year. I worked for a nonprofit organization called Global Peace Initiatives. We started with two gardens in Indianapolis and ended up with twenty-one community gardens over the summer. That was basically to grow food for the needy and the homeless. A lot of the food went to food shelters. So that was sort of a different aspect than what I did last summer with the Butler Campus Farm, which was selling the food and making profit off of it.
SE: My dad had a fairly large garden when I was a kid and besides that, I wasn’t exposed to that much farming. When I heard the campus farm was in the process of being created, it was something that appealed to me and I wanted to get involved with it. So I went down there a few times to volunteer. I remember helping pound in the posts for the fence perimeter. I expressed an interest in working with the farm in the future. They asked if I would be interested in doing an internship with them and things fell into place from there.
JM: Considering the success of your first year with the farm, what are your goals for the farm next year?
SE: We do have several plans for expansion. We are getting the hoop house (small, unheated greenhouse) up and that will allow us to extend the growing season. So next semester when things are starting to thaw we can start planting in there earlier because it will be a few degrees warmer in the hoop house. We are planning on getting bee boxes on the farm which will be really interesting. We have planted some trees out there to get a bigger variety of produce. We’d also like to get the word out about the farm and get more acknowledgement from the Butler community. Right now we’re selling to two restaurants and the Butler cafeteria, we would like to expand in that direction as well if we have enough produce. Another main thing we’d like to work on is refining the processes we go through to plant and harvest. One of the things missing is record keeping. We’d like to record everything we do so future interns can look at what has worked in the past and what hasn’t.
KH: Here are some goals I would have for the future of the farm: Increase educational opportunities, hire a permanent (non-student) farm manager to aid with consistency and provide a better learning experience for interns, make use of the new hoop house to extend the season into early spring and late fall, develop the new apiary and provide more food for the bees, build a chicken coop and bring chickens to the farm for egg production, pest control, and fertilizer, and create a hub and spoke system of urban farms in Indianapolis and develop the Butler Campus Farm as the hub for this new educational system.
JM: It sounds like you guys are doing some wonderful things with the farm. Looking back on what you’ve learned in the last year, what advice would you give students at other schools trying to start a campus farm?
SE: Don’t worry about it too much! Everything is a huge learning process. One thing that I have noticed is you have to explore, be willing to make some mistakes, learn from those mistakes and keep on moving. With the green movement having so much momentum, it would be very hard to be in a university where you couldn’t find support from the faculty and university. Then you need to find the students who are willing to put the work in.
KH: Conduct a good deal of research into farming methods, funding sources, and potential distribution/marketing outlets in your community. Refer to reliable, comprehensive sources for answers to questions and basic information. Team up with your college administrators, sustainability office or ecology center, experienced local farmers and gardening experts, and environmental student organizations. Get as many people on board as possible, keep everyone updated and communicate effectively, and be transparent with your operations. Have fun working with others, be patient if the approval process is slow. Welcome everyone to your new farm or garden, and develop an ambitious vision!
After speaking with Kaitlin, Stuart, and Sam, it is apparent that the inaugural year of the Butler Campus Farm exceeded the expectations of everyone in the campus community. As the students continue with this endeavor, I think there are a few keys to their continued and expanding success. First, it would be beneficial for them to develop their mission statement. Currently the individuals involved with the farm are trying out a variety of ideas. This experimentation is helpful in understanding the potentials and limitations of the farm; however, I believe it would best serve the students and the farm to narrow their focus. Now that they have a full growing season under their belt, they can identify what is most important to them and the campus community and spend the next year perfecting those aspects of the farm.
Additionally, I think it would benefit the farm to develop specific goals for the educational programming they would like to take place on the farm. All of the students that were interviewed stated the importance of utilizing the farm as an educational resource for the Butler University community, as well as the greater Indianapolis community. What type of programs do they want to specialize in? Who is their target population…Butler students, K-12 students? Do they want to develop a series of programs to be available on a regular basis? Do they want to work with faculty members to incorporate the farm into classes already being offered on campus? Spending time answering some of these questions will help focus the educational scope of the farm.
Finally, I think developing a communications plan will expand the reach of the farm. As with any new organization or initiative, it takes time for people to learn about it and understand its purpose. A communication plan will help the farm staff and interns identify new and initiative ways to inform potential patrons of the farm and the variety of opportunities to take advantage of the many resources it provides.
The Butler Campus Farm is an amazing resource to the students, campus, and surrounding community. As sustainable agriculture, local food movements, and food safety concerns become more prevalent, Butler University is providing its community with a hands-on opportunity to learn about these issues, while providing the university an opportunity to lead the way down a path towards healthier, safer, more viable food supplies.
Butler Campus Farm
Sam Erdman, Farm Intern (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Butler Center for Urban Ecology—http://www.butler.edu/cueb/?pg=5387
CUE Twitter: http://twitter.com/butlercue
Earth Carter: http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/
Big City Farms: http://www.bigcityfarmsindy.com/
Butler Campus Farm. 2010. Butler University. 5 December 2010. <http://butlercampusfarm.com/>.
Erdman, Sam. “Butler Campus Farm.” Personal interview. 15 Nov. 2010.
Harvey, Stuart. “Butler Campus Farm.” Personal interview. 26 Oct. 2010.
Haskins, Kaitlin. “Breaking Ground in Indy.” Web log post. The FarmPlate Blog. FarmPlate, 03 Nov. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2010.
Haskins, Kaitlin. “Butler Campus Farm.” E-mail interview. 11 Nov. 2010.
The Earth Carter Initiative. 2009. 5 December 2010. <http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/>.