Research and Education Farm provides hands-on student learning

 Hands on Learning

Created to educate students on sustainability and gain applied experience in the field, the Research and Education Farm (REF) continues to grow at a rapid rate. The area was cultivated last year as a college garden, a space where students grow fruits and vegetables and now includes a composting area and greenhouse complete with research lab.

At the farm, students learn the process of growing food from field to plate, understanding the practice and importance of organic produce and the reasoning of its costly price tag at retailers. “The farm provides an educational opportunity that students can truly benefit from,” said sophomore Sustainability and Environmental Management Justin Booker. “On top of that, organic gardens offer us food that is considerably more healthy and nutritious without the additional toxins that are applied to many of our larger farms.”

Undergraduates also analyze the ground, building up the soil at different times of the year as they plant seasonal produce. Last summer locally grown produce was given to campus faculty and students, but future plans include a farm stand open to the community.

“The REF is extremely important to me because it allows me to learn new things within my field of environmental management through hands-on experience,” said undergraduate Landon Baumgartner. “The farm allows me to gain knowledge I would not have learned in an everyday classroom setting.”

The composting area of the farm complements GWC’s commitment to sustainable practices. Pre-composting food waste from the cafeteria, as well as weeds from Geneva Lake, are incorporated as the students study different methods of composting and carbon sequestration. Also new this semester is a modified greenhouse, which includes an area for the study of hydroponics, a method of growing plants with mineral solutions in water without soil. A small research lab is also located at the farm where students compare and contrast greenhouse-grown to field-grown produce.

“Sometimes things I've learned in class help me understand something that's going on in the garden, or sometimes the garden helps me understand a concept I learn later in class,” said second-year student Esther Sharp. “Also I get to be outside, which always makes me happy.”

The Research and Education Farm is cared for by students in the sustainability and environmental management and parks and recreation majors, undergraduates in the work experience program and students involved in class-driven projects. The farm is overseen by Assistant Professor of Environmental and General Science Richard Boniak.

Future plans for the Research and Education Farm include a greenhouse, a raised bed garden, which will provide excellent drainage for vegetables and flowers, cut flowers plantings, a vineyard for use in jams and jellies and a campus farm stand open to the public.