New Student Farmer Initiative Takes Root

The inaugural Student Farmer Symposium cultivated campus interest in farming, justice, and ecology.

Though there are still a few weeks until the earth thaws and spring begins, the team at the Haverfarm has been hard at work not just preparing the greenhouse, but also sowing the seeds for a different kind of event. They put away their shovels and gloves and organized Haverford’s first-ever Student Farmer Symposium. On Saturday, Feb. 17, students, farmers, and educators from the Philadelphia area (and beyond) gathered in Zubrow Commons to learn about permaculture, farming, eco-activism, and more.

“This year was the first year that the farm hosted a symposium, which was very exciting,” said Malin Ehrsam ‘18, who worked with Alison Love ‘18, Haverfarm fellow Jahzara Heredia ‘16, and other Haverfarm student interns to plan the symposium for the past few months. Ehrsam had the specific task of creating a list of schools to contact, coordinating the speakers, formulating questions for the panel, and preparing the student presenters. “The event could not have happened without all of the hard work of many people,” she said.

“We wanted to reach out to more students on campus and we know that students around the area are thinking and doing similar things and have gardens and clubs that are related to our mission of food sustainability and self-reliance,” said Alison Love ’18. “We wanted to draw connections to students from different campuses because it can be helpful to know what others are doing and also just to know that there are others who interested in farming. We also wanted to get faculty involved and help students that are unfamiliar with farming to learn more about it. We were really focused on having this symposium have students teach other students.”

Student attendees came from different area schools including Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, Moore College of Art & Design, and Eastern University, and from as far away as Johns Hopkins, to participate in the symposium.

Following Heredia’s opening remarks, there was a talk by Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rafter Sass Ferguson on permaculture, climate change, farming movements, and grassroots efforts. That was followed by a poster session and networking event at which attendees could learn about the work of their fellow students from different institutions. Diggin’ the Dirt, a Haverford gardening club that started in the fall, shared a Powerpoint presentation on plans for a plot of land in the Haverford College Apartments that is largely ignored over the year. Brandon Sickel ’18 displayed a poster detailing how the ranch where he worked over summer relates to his thesis work.

Others guests of the day were North Philly Peace Park Founder Tommy Joshua and Krystal Garcia, an ecological wellness specialist.

“It was great to have such a diverse group of speakers, but also speakers that all tied back to the ideas of the importance of the earth and of farming.” said Ehrsam.

For farm intern Leia Thompson ’20, Joshua’s talk was her favorite part. “I’m very enthusiastic about initiatives related to food and environmental justice,” she said. “It was cool to hear from someone directly involved in this area and about the exact measures that one can take to bring about change.” During the event, she worked on a painting inspired by the presentations. “When thinking about what I wanted to paint, the words ‘harvest’ and ‘bounty’ kept appearing in my head,” she said.  “As a result I decided to paint an overhead scene of fruits and veggies, the things that keep farmers coming back to the field.”

For another farm intern, Margaret Chen ‘21, the best part of the symposium was learning, not about the farming techniques, but of the related activism.

“My favorite part was learning about how others are helping to advocate for environmental preservation and being surrounded by others with a passion for farming,” she said.

The evening concluded with a tour of the Haverfarm tour and dinner in the greenhouse.

“This year the symposium was such a success, I can only hope that in future years the event grows and includes more people,” said Ehrsam. “Such a big part of farming is collaboration, and events like the Student Farmer Symposium provide great opportunities to share with other students and learn from other people.”

Even if you missed the symposium, you haven’t missed a chance to be involved with the farm. There will be spring work days, opportunities to apply for the CPGC’s summer farm internship, and the possibility of receiving physical education credit for work done on the farm. Though this semester’s paid interns have already been selected, applications for the fall will be considered soon.

“Looking forward to spring on the farm, I am super excited to start planting and growing delicious veggies and herbs,” said Ehrsam. “We will be having a Spring CSA program, where students, faculty and staff can pay to be a part of the program or volunteer on the farm in return for a share of produce weekly. Spring is always an exciting time on the farm, as we are putting plants in the ground as well as planning for summer, which is our most productive growing season.”

Photos by Sarah Jennings ’21.