Nourishing Farms, Nourishing Students: Reflecting on the 2020 New England Campus Farmer Summit

Nourishing Farms, Nourishing Students: Reflecting on the 2020 New England Campus Farmer Summit

by Bridget Lawrence-Meigs, Director of The Farm at Stonehill, Stonehill College

What a wonderful day we had gathering for the second New England Campus Farmer Summit at Stonehill College on February 22, 2020! Back in the fall our steering committee formed and got to work, developing this summit around the theme of nourishment. The committee consisted of campus farmer managers who had presented at the first summit in 2018: Maida Ives (Amherst’s Book & Plow Farm), Ellie Youngblood (Hotchkiss’s Fairfield Farm), Todd McLane (Tompkins Cortland Community College’s TC3 Farm), Celia Dolan and I (from Stonehill’s The Farm at Stonehill) and FINE’s Director of Programs, Tania Taranovski and FINE’s Project and Event Manager, Dana Stevens.  

While our campus farms’ missions may be diverse, we as campus farm managers share a desire to connect and learn from one another and to support students who work with us. The summit provides one way to forge connections and support healthy food systems in the fields and on college campuses. It was during one of our final steering committee calls in early February that Todd McLane, TC3 Farm Director, Tompkins Cortland Community College, eloquently reminded us that, “Campus farms are much more than learning the hard skills of producing food. They serve as a way to connect people to the earth, bring folks together across cultures through food and history and provide a chance to address the inequalities and gaps within a sustainable food system.” Energized by our fellow campus farmers' excitement for the gathering, we chipped away at the last few logistics and organizational details and got ready to welcome folks from as far as Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. 

The day of the summit dawned sunny and bright with temperatures destined to climb into the high 40s!  It made us happy knowing that our attendees would have good traveling conditions: and sure enough almost 160 campus farm enthusiasts made the trip to Stonehill’s Easton, MA campus to spend the day together.  It is a magical thing having the opportunity to create a space where people with similar challenges and shared joys can come together. 

We started the day listening to four students share how their campus farming experiences have nourished them physically, mentally and socially. They spoke from their hearts, inspiring fellow student farmers, and reminding campus farm managers of the value of our work. Eating becomes personal – joyful, painful, beautiful and meaningful – when you experience growing something from seed to table. Our panelists, guided by Celia, shared stories which resonated with all of the attendees. I am sure that each attendee had their own highlights during the day, and we will collect these experiences through the attendees surveys and share them with you in a future blog post.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to introduce and hear from our keynote speaker, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Tufts University, Julian Agyeman. Professor Agyeman is the originator of the concept of just sustainabilities: “the intentional integration of social justice and environmental sustainability, defined as: the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now, and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.” Worldwide, Julian is recognized as a public intellectual, an innovator and thought leader.

Here at Stonehill College we strive to “educate the whole person so that each Stonehill graduate thinks, acts, and leads with courage toward the creation of a more just and compassionate world.”  As a campus farmer and advocate for sustainability, I was thrilled when Pope Francis’ second encyclical, Ladauto Si was published in 2015, focusing on “care for our common home.” It invites its readers to enter into a dialogue about “how we are shaping the future of the planet.” In the encyclical, Pope Francis states, “We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environment challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”   

As campus farmers, we have the unique opportunity to teach about issues like climate change, social justice, environmental sustainability, ecosystem services and food access quite literally in the field. There, we work with our students to address challenges and forge short and long term solutions. The best solutions often stem from critically examining our cultivation practices or teaching strategies.  

Throughout the day, presenters challenged us to think critically and think differently about the work that we do individually and collectively so that we can all work together to “care for our common home” with a reignited sense of urgency. We were lucky to have Professor Agyeman, student panelists, esteemed colleagues who led workshops, MA Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux, and our closing speaker Professor Philip Ackerman-Leist all lead us in thinking about these challenges.

Stay tuned for more updates about the different experiences folks had at the summit and how we are continuing to grow a strong campus farmer network by sharing stories online and in person via newsletters and campus farm gatherings. For more information about the campus farmer network, please contact Bridget Lawrence-Meigs or Maida Ives, co-chairs of the Campus Farms Steering Committee of FINE’s Farm and Sea to Campus Network. 


2020 New England Campus Farmer Summit