Small, green sprouts peek through the dirt. A coconut tree’s leaves reach over your head, relieving you momentarily from the sun’s glare. White blooms poke through leafy green bushes, promising ripe dragon fruit soon.
The Eckerd College Community Farm is a one-acre plot between the campus’ baseball and soccer fields, a sustainable safe haven for students to practice gardening, planting, weeding and producing their own food. The farm was originally started as a student-led garden in 2010 and today, it has grown into a home for dozens of crops and plants, as well as a learning center for 9 classes and ten student workers. Since the addition of a full-time farm manager, affectionately known as Farmer Jon, there have been more opportunities than ever for students to get involved for Reflective Service Learning (RSL) opportunities, class credit, part-time jobs, or just to spend some time outdoors with other environmentalists.
One class that utilizes the farm is Food and Sustainability with Instructor and Internship Coordinator David Himmelfarb. At 8:20 every Friday morning, the class participates in “Fridays on the Farm” to work on various projects such as a “three sisters” plot: a 25-foot circle where they are growing indigenous varieties of corn, beans and squash. At the beginning of each outdoor class, the students walk through the farm and observe what is happening, how people feel in the space and what kinds of plants they recognize.
According to Himmelfarb, the crops work together ecologically and nutritionally because they make up a well-balanced diet, and the corn provides infrastructure for the beans to grow upwards, the beans provide new nitrogen into the soil, and the squash leaves provide a natural mulch.
“Every week so far we’ve had a handful of students stay after class on Friday and just keep working. I’ve never had a course before where people want to stay after class is over,” Himmelfarb said.
Beyond the classroom, students can apply for work-study positions and get paid to lead tours of the farm, scout out projects that need to be done, decide what seeds to plant and more. Senior Savannah Core is a farm ambassador, and she works five to eight hours a week alongside Farmer Jon and her dog, Bignet, who enjoys lounging in the sun while Core completes her work.
“I think it’s a common misconception among upperclassmen that the farm is being taken away from students and that it’s no longer student run,” Core said. “But I strongly disagree with that. The Student Ambassador positions are all student leadership positions, and now that we have organization out here, projects and opportunities are getting fulfilled that we didn’t have the manpower for before.”
Jonathan Prieto, also known as Farmer Jon, said he wants to welcome as many members of the Eckerd community as possible out to the farm and make it a hub for information and sustainability. Besides connecting with other people at Eckerd, he also hopes to start an irrigation system at the farm, which he hopes will define further plans for planting trees throughout the plot.
“My passion is to empower everyone to grow something. It doesn’t matter if you have a balcony or if you’ve got a full front yard -- you can grow something that will contribute to your food system,” Pietro said.
Director of Sustainability Evan Bollier was a student at Eckerd when this project was first started in 2010, and he said he has always wanted to see it through to its highest and best potential. Each student worker is employed under the Office of Sustainability, and Bollier said he is proud of the way the farm is still mostly run by students.
“The Office of Sustainability would be nothing without students. All our best projects come from students and are student driven, so it just makes complete sense to support this,” Bollier said.
Bollier believes that the farm will be an important step in teaching students about what it means to be a sustainable campus and educate the community about the impacts our food has on the environment in both the long and short term.
According to Bollier, if we can lessen our impact on the earth, we can reduce the need for technology that pollutes the environment, and the farm is an important first step in this goal.
Any student, no matter their level of experience or how busy their schedule is, can volunteer on Tuesdays from noon to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon with Farmer Jon and learn direct, hands-on skills such as planting, weeding, observing the landscape and controlling pests. To get involved, sign up here for the Farm email list and follow @Eccommunityfarm on Instagram.