The Evergreen State College Welcomes Back Another Season on Their Organic Farm with Agricultural Pathways

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The Practice of Organic Farming program gives students real farming experience. Being active on the farm helps show students the foundation of farming and teaches them essential skills for careers in agriculture. Photo credit: Shauna Bittle

The Evergreen State College provides a wonderful array of student programs and community services. The Organic Farm boasts an exceptional curriculum sought after by students around the country and also provides delicious produce and products to the local community. If you are considering a career in agriculture, Evergreen’s programs and Organic Farm offer the perfect way to learn and gain experience in the industry.

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Faculty use the farm to give students a hands-on learning experience. A variety of programs use the farm, thought the most popular is the Agricultural Pathway. Pictured here is farm faculty David Muehleisen with students Lily McGarey and Maleah Upah. Photo credit: Shauna Bittle

The farm has been established since the start of the university back in the early 70s. A group of students cleared part of the land to have a place to experiment, garden and farm. Even before official organic certifications, the farm was operating using more natural farming methods. The Evergreen Organic Farm transitioned to a certified organic farm in the early 90s when the farm became a program within Evergreen’s academic curriculum.

Current Farm Manager Beth Leimbach remembers how influential her time on the farm was when she was working on her agriculture degree, then called Practices of Sustainable Agriculture. “It inspired me and became something I was really passionate about,” she says. Beth graduated and worked in a variety of agricultural capacities, her longest-running position as a manager for Left Foot Organics for 11 years. She returned to Evergreen as a staff member in 2015 and became the full-time manager last year.

Today, the Organic Farm is utilized by a variety of majors and pathways, such as the Practice of Organic Farming program in the Food and Agriculture Pathway. This 3-quarter program runs during spring, summer and fall. It is integral to keeping the farm running. “It is a central piece of what we do at the Organic Farm,” Beth shares. The program and farm are focused on small-scale diversified organic market farming, so students learn all aspects of the process and industry, from the science of soil to the business and economics side through the sale of products. “It is an interdisciplinary program because that’s what farming is itself,” Beth says.

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Maleah Upah was a student in the 2020 program and now works on the farm as an aide. She is a Market Manager and a program aide, meaning she helps faculty with the program. “She is really a great example of what students can go on to do after being in the Practice of Organic Farming program!” Beth says. Photo credit: Shauna Bittle

The program prepares students for a range of occupations in the world of agriculture. Through the experiences of growing produce, running the farmers market stand, and coordinating contracts with local businesses, students will be able to succeed in many different positions. “They can work on their own farms or other farms, or seek careers in education, advocacy, or policy,” Beth says. “It’s a huge field, so there are lots of ways people can plug into agriculture.” The program provides an exceptional foundation to explore these different areas to find the right fit.

The farm is a major part of the academic curriculum, but it is also a fully functioning farm that contributes to aspects of our community, such as the farm stand. It is held at the Organic Farm and provides public sale of fresh produce grown on the farm by the students. The farm stand resumed operations in April and is open every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. until November 4 when the season ends.  The students rotate each week to participate in setting up the stand itself, learning about display, understanding customer transactions, and improving customer interactions. “The live direct sales create that acknowledgement from the customer to the student that they grew it and someone is paying for it,” Beth says. “It really helps connect the dots.”

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Another way the Organic Farm connects to the community is through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs Photo credit: Shauna Bittle

Another way the Organic Farm connects to the community is through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. “Businesses pay for the produce ahead of time and the farmers produce it in a set amount of time,” Beth explains. “There is an expectation that we are going to grow and produce food.” With students participating in all aspects of the Organic Farm, they are expected to balance both the academic program and production. Encompassing the full process into the program’s curriculum helps students see how farms operate and ways they contribute to our society.

The Organic Farm takes about 25-35 people to run it, which is the number of students Evergreen aims to enroll each quarter. During the shutdown last year, the class had been moved completely to a virtual platform, which made for quick adaptations on the part of the Evergreen faculty. “My assistant and I were madly trying to take care of the farm and research what other farms were doing,” Beth recalls. They worked together to create safety plans and protocols to successfully bring students back part-time in May of 2020, with class resuming full-time by the start of summer quarter. “I am very proud that we were able to get everything approved to bring the students back,” Beth says. “The students have been great and are so motivated to be here.”

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The Organic Farm hosts a market stand with a variety of locally grown products for public sale. In addition to growing produce, the students on the Organic Farm also grow and sell a beautiful array of flowers. Photo credit: Shauna Bittle

The pandemic proved that farming is part of our very livelihood and emphasis needs to continue to be placed on supporting our local farmers. “Farming is an essential activity and agriculture is an essential industry,” Beth says. “We are proud to be part of that. Here, we grow food and we grow farmers.” If you are interested in a career in agriculture, contact Evergreen today to learn more about how you can grow into the next generation of farmers.

For more information on Evergreen, please visit The Evergreen State College website.

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