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Farming and Academia Make a Perfect Marriage

Introduction

Farming and academia can make a perfect marriage although they rarely form such a solid union as at Bard. Very few college campuses have a working farm that provides farm-to-table fare for students and community members. The following is a story of the people and efforts that ordained this particular marriage and allowed the Bard farm to thrive on the Bard campus for almost a decade now.

Founding

Eight years ago, a young farmer named John Paul Sliva approached Paul Marienthal of TLS/community garden fame to discuss farming at Bard. John Paul was then growing a garden for an upscale restaurant in New York City but wanted to do something more socially relevant. Like a college farm.

They worked together all summer in the community garden (an already-existing smaller affair that grew vegetables and flowers and had a splendid arbor and an often-used student gathering area), creating a vision for this expansion. In September they were given a boost by a freshman student, Carter Vanderbilt. Carter was passionate about farming from a scientific and environmental perspective. The three of them put together a budget and a proposal for the college to consider. Carter’s arguments were persuasive about the politics of food and health and class issues related to the availability of healthy local food.  He proposed academic classes about soil and the science of food dovetailing with student interns working in the garden during summer months.

Funding and Building

The administration responded to his academic arguments but agreed to fund the project only if the students behind this effort would raise one third of the amount. Then CFO, Jim Brudvig, advocated for the farm. The food service supplier agreed to buy the produce for the student and faculty dining rooms. This was a coup, providing a stable income flow for the farm and allowing an opportunity for students to eat fresh local food while studying the politics, anthropology, and science of food. In three weeks the students had exceeded expectations and the project moved forward.

Word got out and help came from many arenas inside the college and out. The Vosburg excavators plowed the area as a donation, and the Bard building and grounds employees under the direction of Randy Clum did too many jobs to count. The fence posts put in by an Albany company are a work of art. A few carpenters were hired to build a barn and they were joined by over 20 local and regional carpenters, Bard students, and employees, donating time and expertise. The barn was completed in four days and celebrated with a big pig roast.

The Farmers

John Paul created a state-of-the-art operation. A refrigerator box is on site to store produce until food service picks it up, and there’s a washing station. He converted an old pool next to the Sawkill waterfall to a shiitake mushroom garden. Two years ago he decided to look for new challenges and Rebecca Yoshino was hired to run the Bard Farm.

Rebecca came with an extensive farming background after growing up on a farm in Columbia County and then working on Midwest farms helping Hmong immigrant farmers and a Dakota tribe. She came back to the Hudson Valley for the opportunity to work with young people in a college/ farm setting. She has seven dedicated student interns who are working with her this summer.

Sustainable agriculture and food justice are her driving forces. She’s worked with Bard faculty from several departments to design classes on the science of soil and seeds and the art of food preservation, allowing the experience of farming to intersect with academic studies.

Distributing the Produce

Along with selling produce to food services, the farm also offers the same produce to the community at their farmer’s market on campus every Thursday. The campus food service has been closed through the pandemic so Rebecca is now donating produce to Dan Budd, the soul of Red Hook Responds. There are students who remain on campus due to pandemic restrictions. Rebecca partners with Bard Wellness Services, helping to feed any student with food insecurity.

Improbable Existence

Now that the farm is a living organism with a full work force, a barn, talented managers, and reliable customers, it seems a done deal—yet another project flowing from the fountain of Bard’s endless ideas. But that is exactly the opposite of the farm’s birth story. The Bard farm is a very unlikely outcome whose unlikelihood was reiterated every step of the way. At every obstacle, there were individuals who donated time, expertise, labor, and crucial persuasion. For local food advocates, a farm on a land-rich liberal arts campus may seem obvious. But any college navigates a tangle of concerns and personalities that do not always make for easy detours. There were plenty of reasons for the farm not to exist; before it was conceived, it was inconceivable.

The individuals named here and many others beyond the reach of this article converged to make the farm not only a dot on the Bard campus map, but a living agricultural and local food experiment. It’s worth remembering that this farm could not have come into being without a cultural awakening about food politics and the labor, charisma, dedication, and donations of hundreds of community members and students who organized according to compelling principles and people.

For more information about the farm go to www.bardfarm.org. The farmer’s market at the bus stop by Kline Hall is open from 1-5 p.m. every Thursday in August and noon to 5 in September and October. Inventory is listed on the web site on Fridays for the next week. You can have safe practice curbside pickup or shop one at a time at the farm stand, reassured that all recommended health and safety measures are being followed.

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