A pile of hard rock and rubble isn’t exactly the first place you would think to grow food on, but a group of SUNY-New Paltz students have found a way to do just this – and with great success.
The Students for Sustainable Agriculture group typically gets together to volunteer on local farms, educating peers about organic agriculture and sustainable foods. In addition, Sus-Ag holds Farm Fest on campus every semester, hosting local farmers, small business owners and environmentally-focused community groups on campus for a day of music and education. The group considers itself a bridge between the greater Hudson Valley community and the SUNY college students.
Sus-Ag has now expanded its ambitions. It is also a proud proprietor and reaper of a working campus micro-farm producing diverse summer veggies and herbs “for ourselves and anyone who needs it.” This year, the focus has shifted to producing organic vegetables and herbs. The students see the gardening space as a form of food sovereignty and a method of partial independence from the limiting meal plans on campus. “Food is a matter of survival.” explains Galo Vasquez, second-year Sus-Ag member and part of farm-outreach coordination. “It’s always going to be a necessity, and from it stems disparities and solutions in the food justice and economics system.”
A couple of years ago, Sus-Ag was granted the option to start experimenting on what is essentially a dumping ground for construction material on the campus. The result of the opportunity has surpassed student expectations.
Sus-Ag has even been able to use some of the construction material, such as a mound of wood shavings located conveniently next to its plot, to mulch pathways. It uses cut wooden logs scattered around the area to border its veggie beds.
After a tumultuous start-up phase, there is now sufficient student presence and motivation to build up the soil and keep up with the plants. Planned collaborations include an environmental geography class visiting the plot as a hands-on, farm-based learning experience.
With the help of local group, Climate Action Coalition, a fence has been constructed. The micro-farm has already produced hundreds of pounds of vegetables from rainbow chard to basil, napa cabbage to eggplants, even watermelons and onions. A Kickstarter campaign has enabled the purchase a load of healthy, micro-dynamic compost from local business Community Compost Company to build up the soil.
“The sustainable model is starting to pour into classrooms,” said Michael Essig, Sustainable Wood Forestry business owner and honorary Sus-Ag member. “At SUNY-Sullivan, all their core curriculum are becoming based off of sustainable thinking, from math to economics.”
Sus-Ag has expanded considerably over the past semester, with gatherings of more than 20 students crowding the limited group meeting space.
In this season of abundance and expansion, there are a lot of projects to look forward to. On the top of the list are finding a proper outlet for vegetables, building compost bins where students can drop off their food waste, organizing more farm-work days, educating the campus and outward community, and cultivating a sense of food independence that can be taken with them wherever the students go.
Anna Norum, Sus-Ag second-year member, is part of the art and public relations crew. “Sus-Ag teaches skills for everyday life, growing food will never not be relevant,” she said. “People are just starting to realize the importance of knowing where their food is coming from, and we offer a hands-on experience to that reality.”
To locate this little plot of food sovereignty, follow the south path from the Esopus parking lot that goes past the observatory up to the hill. There you will find a colorful fence enclosing a shed and various planting places.