By William Kissane, Staff Writer
As the foundation for the Warren Wilson College Work Program, the campus farm is a major marketing base for drawing prospective students’ interests. The idea of a college with an on-campus organic food resource is naturally appealing. However, few attending students are aware of the actual benefits that the farm offers to the college, and many students’ perceptions are inaccurate.
From a promotional standpoint, Wilson seems to give the impression that the campus farm and pesticide-free garden are primary sources of cafeteria food, in addition to being significant contributors in the educational benefits of the work program. Although the cafeterias consistently use ingredients from the farm and garden, the majority of produce used in both Gladfelter and Cowpie menus comes from mostly external and few local sources through Sodexo, the French food corporation that manages Wilson food establishments. However, the farm is beginning to play a larger role, according to Food Sustainability Manager of Sodexo Dining Services and ‘07 Wilson Alum, Jenna Marshman.
“I think I’ve most definitely seen an increase in utilization of the farm in my time [at Wilson],” Marshman said. “When I went to school here we were lucky to get a burger [from the farm] in the cafeteria. If you wanted farm meat you had to buy it from the farm directly and cook it yourself. It became more frequent in my later college years but nothing like now.”
Originally from Atlanta, GA, Marshman has worked at Wilson since the fall of 2012. She majored in Environmental Studies with a Concentration in Sustainable Agriculture and graduated in 2007. While she has seen a recent increase in farm produce being used in cafeteria menus, Marshman said that she has noticed a significant decrease in the presence of garden produce since her time as a Wilson student. The weather this past summer took a toll on the garden’s productivity, a toll which could partially explain the apparent lack of garden foods recently.
In the 2012-2013 school year, Gladfelter used 13,899 lbs. of meat from the farm and the garden sold 5,264.7 lbs. of garden produce to both cafeterias. Thanks to the close partnership between the college and the farm, the cafeterias are able to buy and provide produce at deflated prices to meet the wholesale needs of Sodexo. Normally, grass-fed, organic, or local produce would be far out of the price range under the current budget.
Although the relationship has clear benefits, farm and garden produce is still fairly pricey. Some students question Wilson’s sustainable image after realizing that the majority of cafeteria food does not come from the farm or garden. Marshman, however, feels that relative to other schools with on-campus farms, Wilson is lightyears ahead of most institutions in regards to increasing sustainability on campus, especially with food. A piece recently published on the Good Housekeeping website, written by Brian Clark Howard, ranked Wilson among the twelve most healthy and sustainable college cafeterias, stating that Wilson has “fashioned itself into a model of sustainability.” Wilson’s dining policy, which has become campus policy, is only one of the very few Sustainable Dining Policies that are being executed. Marshman said she would like to see the college build on what it has already achieved. She’s encouraging the school to go through with obtaining organic certification and, possibly, with adding green technology infrastructure. She still feels that the farm could and should play a larger role in the Wilson community.
“There are some community members that do not have an intrinsic connection to their food and I feel that is a core value that needs to be nurtured and grown within all of our students and that this can be accomplished through making the farm more visible in the community,” Marshman said. “If sustainability is our mission as a college than we cannot simply ignore the aspects of the farm that creates so many examples of environmental, social and economic sustainability within our daily operations.”
Through the farm, students are able to learn not only how to grow and produce farm products, but they also have the educational opportunity to learn about marketing to a number of different outlets. There are obvious health benefits to serving campus produced foods, but the purposes of the farm extend to benefits to education of the work aspect and to community relationships around the college.
“The farm not only creates a wonderful display of self-sustainability, it also offers educational and physical/health benefits to the campus community,” Marshman said. “Some of the obvious benefits are that we get fresh, organically grown produce and grass-fed meats that everyone can enjoy not only in the dining hall, but also through the [Community Supported Agriculture], the farmers market, and Everyone Cooks.”