The Farm at Davidson: A Living Laboratory for Students

Theresa Allen manages produce and student workers at the Farm at Davidson. Photo by Elayna Daniels ‘21

Alyssa Tirrell ‘22

Staff writer

In the last decade, farms have become increasingly popular at colleges and universities around the United States. Many institutions, including Davidson, were originally modeled to include required labor on the school farms and are returning to their roots with the help of environmentalism and organic food movements. In 2008, Davidson purchased roughly 109 acres of wooded land from the McIntosh family with the intention of turning the area into a farm. Ten years later, the Farm at Davidson has grown to include a weekly farmer’s market in the Union, a Community Supported Agriculture program, and a work-study opportunity for students, in addition to its contributions to Dining Services.

The students who work on the farm experience an education distinct from any other at Davidson. “One of my favorite things is harvesting,” said Ellie Irving ‘19, who began working on the farm the summer after her sophomore year. “You can see the literal fruits of your labor. It’s not the same feeling as, ‘Oh, I finished a paper, and now I’m going to send it to my professor.’ I think school is a lot of weight being lifted, whereas the farm just lifts me. The farm is more fulfilling than relieving.”

When Irving began working on the farm she remembered being surprised by “the amount of work and the amount of failure that you have to be okay with.” As someone who had always been interested in knowing where her food came from, Irving learned from the farm to view food and the people behind food production in a more complex and authentic way. “Watching people throw away their salad in Commons really upsets me now,” she pointed out. “Working on the farm gives me a greater appreciation.”

“It’s a lot of work,” agreed Spencer Patten ‘20, who has worked on the farm for the past six growing-seasons. “The farm has taught me a lot about my own work ethic. When you are out at the farm, Theresa expects you to be working.”

Lilly Greene ‘21 enjoys the hands-on experience of regular farmwork.. Photo by Elayna Daniels ‘21

Farm Manager Theresa Allen spent twenty years in the restaurant industry before being hired by Davidson’s Dining Services in 2010. Dressed in her signature overalls and standing beside the weekly Farmer’s Market in the Union, she explained that her time in Dining Services, after which she transitioned into her current role, taught her exactly the kinds of needs the farm could meet. “I got insight into what each of the chefs like,” said Allen, gesturing in the direction of Commons. “They are all on different pages.”

Beyond the food consumed on campus, the farm has connected to the broader community of Davidson students by serving as an alternative academic space. In a recent Charlotte Magazine article, the Davidson Farm was described as Davidson’s “most coveted classroom,” but Patten feels that the farm’s potential as a multidisciplinary learning space is underutilized. 

“The Farm is way more than just environmental science,” stated Patten, who is currently majoring in economics. He feels that the farm naturally lends itself to studies in the humanities as well. What if people studying history could ground their studies in the plants and labor described in the classroom?

Irving also feels that the farm is a space for students of all disciplines. “Students can feel very welcome there,” she added. “Entering a lab as an English major can make you feel that you don’t belong there. But a field or a tomato doesn’t make you feel like you don’t belong. There are very few barriers to entry.”

Despite the fact that the farm is only a mile outside of campus, many students don’t know it exists. “Sometimes I talk to seniors who are graduating, and they didn’t even know that we had a farm,” remarked Spencer. 

“I’m not in the middle of campus where you’ll trip over me,” states Allen, who lives on the farm. Because of this, she and her students are constantly thinking of new ways to engage Davidson students and bring awareness to the Farm. 

“I like that it’s a separate space, but I would like more people to be connected to it,” added Irving. 

 It is difficult for people who work on the farm to imagine their Davidson experience without it, which is one reason why Allen is so focused on growing the awareness of the work that they do. Although Allen appreciated the attention that the recent Charlotte Magazine piece brought to the farm, some of her students felt that the piece presented the farm as too academic or extracurricular. To them, the farm is much more than that. “Without the farm I wouldn’t have made the friendships that I have,” said Patten. 

Allen agreed; “These students will be my lifelong friends.”

 

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