Field of Sustainable Dreams

The Student Farm at Penn State is part of a living laboratory for engagement in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

You can do a lot with one acre if you don't mind getting your hands dirty.

Interns who have worked during summer 2016 on the Student Farm at Penn State grew both food and knowledge, putting a lot of love into a bumper crop while soaking up tons of experience.

“We have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil in field one. I think we have around 900 tomato plants. We’ve got kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts..." Sustainable Student Farm Design Coordinator Leslie Pillen said.

The farm, established in 2016 on a single acre on University Park campus, falls under the umbrella of the interdisciplinary Sustainable Food Systems Program, which strives to make Penn State a living laboratory for engagement in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The program strategically links classroom education with experiential education, research, and community outreach. Students from diverse backgrounds and academic interests grow crops and gain a respect for the land and how to sustain it. 

The program involves research done by Pillen and Kathleen Wood, who were both working on their master's degrees in rural sociology in 2013. Their research explored the social processes and structures of farm internships and land-link programs, and studied the implications of these for providing the necessary resources to new farmers. 

A Student Farm intern puts vegetables into a red carrying basket.

Harvesting the Crops

A Student Farm intern puts a load of vegetables into a basket for transport during the late summer harvest. 

IMAGE: Michelle Bixby

Flagship components of the Sustainable Food Systems Program include the Student Farm, a highly active Student Farm Club, and myriad opportunities for collaborations across the Penn State curriculum. All who are engaged in the program share common goals that underlie their work: enhance education, cultivate community, and grow local food access. 

Pillen said that only about 20 percent of students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences grew up on farms, so the project is a good way for them to get hands-on experience. 


Two female students work in the field at the Student Farm in the spring.

Early in the Season

Hayly Hoch (left) works in the Student Farm fields with Carolina Negron.

IMAGE: Alyssa Gurklis/Penn State Student Farm

"I’ve gone from being a girl who despised cucumbers and carrots to a co-founder, co-director and current summer intern for the Student Farm at Penn State." —Hayly Hoch

Student interns are involved in every step of the farming process, from growing and harvesting crops to packing and delivering products to members. During the first growing season, summer 2016, the farm sold produce through two channels: Campus Supported Agriculture (CSA), through which members can purchase produce weekly, and wholesale distribution to University entities such as The Nittany Lion Inn and University Park campus dining halls.

A student works to fix a machine at the Student Farm

Thumbs up!

Quiana Dickson, an intern at the Student Farm, shows her pride after repairing farm machinery. 

IMAGE: Courtesy Student Farm at Penn State

"I have learned more than I ever thought I could. From knowing when to harvest a specific crop to running the BCS (our walk behind tractor) and then how to fix it when it breaks." —Quiana Dickson

An intern at the Student Farm harvests greens

Taking Care of the Greens

Haitham Al-Abdali, an undergraduate in energy engineering, works in a field of greens, making many delicious salads possible for the future. 

IMAGE: Michelle Bixby
A student plants seeds on the field at the Student Farm

Planting for Future

Colin Casto, studying community, environment, and development and a production intern at the Student Farm, plants seeds. 

To see the entire team that handles the Student Farm, discover all the farm includes, and learn more about the Sustainable Food Systems Program, visit:


Editorial notes

—Quotes from Quiana Dickson and Hayly Hoch came from the student intern blog on the Student Farm website.

—Top photo: Michael Cahill, graduate student in Agricultural Extension and Education; image by Michelle Bixby




Announcement from the Student Farm at Penn State

Join us for the fall growing season on the One Acre Student Farm! The Student Farm Initiative at Penn State is offering paid internship opportunities for current students interested in working for the farm, under the guidance of the program coordinator. For fall 2016, we are seeking up to eight part-time (12-15 hours/week) student farmers. Start and end dates are approximately September 1 through December 1. 

To apply, please submit a cover letter and resume to Student Farm Coordinator Leslie Pillen, or via Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with interviews starting August 25, 2016, so applicants are encouraged to apply early. PSU Job #: 66061

For more information, see: