Student Farm Club looks forward to a semester of growth

The Penn State Student Farm was started by a group of students who wanted to have their own on-site farm where they could grow vegetables and provide these vegetables to campus. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Members of the Penn State Student Farm Club are looking forward to a busy semester. Their first event of the year, the fourth annual Harvest Festival, will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Student Farm.

Club Executive Director Jess Chou said the festival is a way to celebrate the successful summer season and get ready for autumn. It also is a great way for students and the community to meet members of the Student Farm Club and staff from the Penn State Sustainability Institute and hear about plans for future farm expansions.

“There will be lots of food, so it’s a great place to grab dinner and have some fun on the farm,” said Whitney Ashead, the club’s director of campus outreach.

The food at this family-friendly event will be provided by the Penn State Food Truck. There also will be student-led tours, planting activities, live music and face painting. Students can get a ride to the farm via a blue bus, which will depart at 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. from the Ag Administration Building (pullout area near Berkey Creamery). The bus will return guests to campus at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Chou, of Mechanicsburg, a senior majoring in environmental resource management in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, attended her first Student Farm Club meeting as a freshman and said she found “an awesome, friendly group of people who had a clear purpose and mission to create a more sustainable food system.”

Ashead, a senior from Buffalo, New York, double majoring in agricultural science and geography, had a similar experience.

“I’m mission-oriented and I get excited to see progress being made in areas that I care about,” she said.

“The club does everything from hands-on farm work to advocacy and outreach on topics such as food waste, food systems and education. It’s an exciting platform to be involved in. I think because it is a student farm, the students feel very empowered to take on their own projects.”

Members of the Penn State Student Farm Club are busy preparing for their first event of the year, the fourth annual Harvest Festival, set for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 12.  Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

The Harvest Festival is just part of the busy semester ahead. Approximately 30 students from majors across the University regularly participate in club functions, which include general meetings featuring guest speakers and casual potlucks.

Ashead explained that the club is broken up into project teams, each of which hosts its own meetings outside of general club meetings. These teams are food and agriculture, food justice and security, cooking and nutrition, food waste, and production and procurement. Project team meetings include setting up educational outreach events, cooking events using local produce, youth engagement, and harvesting vegetables.

During the spring planting season, the club hosts workshops open to students and community members. Also, during finals week in the spring, the club organizes a plant sale so Penn State students can take seedlings home with them to plant during the summer.

The student farm initiative was started by a group of students who wanted to have their own on-site farm where they could grow vegetables and provide these vegetables to campus, Chou said. In 2016, the farm was given a one-acre piece of land along Big Hollow Road.

The farm soon will expand its current location. Chou explained the farm’s location was originally a three-year pilot site.

“We’ve just reached the end of those three years and have been approved for permanency,” she said. “We are going to expand to be about three times the size of the current farm.”

Plans for the new site include a pavilion, an outdoor kitchen and expansion of high-tunnel space.

“We're trying to expand our production, event and classroom spaces,” Ashead said. “Right now, if a class comes out to the farm on a rainy day, there’s no place to get out of the weather. We’d like a pavilion that can be both a community kitchen and a classroom to give us new ways to showcase the farm.”

The farm receives funding from a number of sources, including alumni donors. Penn State Food Services sponsors internships at the farm and purchases produce that is used in campus dining halls.

“We also offer campus-supported agriculture; people can buy-in and get a share of the produce every week,” Ashead said.

Another big buyer of produce is The Village at Penn State. The farm is visible from some of the homes there, and Chou said the residents not only enjoy the produce but also being able to see the students at work.

The club is dedicated to minimizing food waste, so produce that is not sold is donated to local organizations like the Lion’s Pantry.

“Being part of this club is really special,” Chou said. “You gain the skills to take an initial idea for a project, look at the logistics and figure out what resources that you’ll need to make the project a success, then actually execute the project. We build leaders who can organize and collaborate on any kind of project in the future.”

Regular club meetings are held at 6 p.m. every Thursday in 215 Armsby Building. For more information about the club, follow the Student Farm on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter or visit the farm's website.

Last Updated September 10, 2019