(left to right) Maida Ives, Jesse Valdez, Parker Richardson and Julia Doubson roll straw on Amherst College’s Book & Plow Farm.

Posted January 3, 2020


Unrolling Straw: Spirals in College, Community, and Life

Unrolling Straw: Spirals in College, Community, and Life

by Parker Richardson

I think it was my last farm shift of the year, on Amherst College’s Book & Plow Farm, and the sun was a cold golden. The Friday afternoon crew was rolling straw out onto what will be, is becoming next year’s garlic. It was a lot of grunting and laughter, figuring out how to maneuver the straw rolls. Maida, one of the head farmers, curled her body to mirror the curve of the hay, uncurled it to understand how we should push the roll so that it would naturally uncurl. She wasn’t sure and wasn’t afraid to admit it. We all laughed some more, figured it out together, and pushed the rolls across the field. 

It’s a point of pride for me, to be a student farmer, to be a part of this group of people, especially the Friday afternoon crew. I went my whole life before I came to Amherst not knowing where my food came from, barely even thinking about it. But working on our campus farm completely altered the way I think about food. The farm became an opportunity to understand where I exist in the food system, to think critically about the people and the processes that produce our food. It is a different type of learning than done in the classroom: to sow seeds, to thrust your hands in the dirt and harvest sweet potatoes, to eat kale you may have picked or washed. 

I see our campus farm in that straw roll, layers of support spiraling in and out. Even if you are not directly involved with the farm, it impacts you. Students, staff, and faculty who have not worked on the farm know that some of the food they are eating in the dining hall was grown by people they walk by every day, on the same land where they live, work, and go to classes. Many professors bring their classes to the farm, and the farm holds its own classes, teaching students how to naturally dye clothes, how to use the herbs that grow here. Members of the college community become more aware and active in their consumption decisions and their impacts on the earth as well as local and global communities while at Amherst, which influences how they live and think about food systems as they continue through life.

But the farm doesn’t just spiral inwards, towards the college; Book & Plow is an active part of many circles of community. Maida and Kaylee, who run the farm together, work next to other local farmers and develop relationships with them. Book & Plow shares their harvest: we have traded vegetables with the Hampshire College farm, and the farm offers CSA shares to local families, including on a sliding scale for families that cannot afford to buy fresh, local food. All these different circles overlap at the farm and expand all of our worlds. 

There is a reciprocal relationship between the farmers and the land, the farm and the college, the college and the town. I can enter the world with an understanding of all the people, all the types of energy it takes to produce food. In fact, because of the farm, I feel like I have already entered the world, can trace the roots of its interconnectedness. Working on Book & Plow Farm has taught me ways I want to move through the world: to learn from the earth, to see ourselves in each other, to roll and unroll the spirals that connect us all. I have become aware that we need to work together so that we can all have sustainable access to fresh food. I believe it can happen because I’ve seen it and felt it at Book & Plow.

The author Parker Richardson attends Amherst College, and is a student farmer at the college's Book & Plow Farm.  

Get Involved! Attend the 2020 New England Campus Farmer Summit

February 22, 2020 at Stonehill College in Easton, MA Join campus farmers, students, and representatives from non-profits and agencies to connect in person about what makes campus farms successful. This forum provides an opportunity for stakeholders working at the intersection of food justice, environmental sustainability, food access, and healthy eating to discuss challenges and opportunities. Partners from the nonprofit sector join us in conversation about what colleges and universities can do to forge deeper community alliances and strengthen our regional food system.

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