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Zena Farm

VIDEO: Students and faculty discuss Zena Farm and the summer sustainable agriculture program. (1:45)

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Student farm supplies fresh produce to Willamette campus

Next time you pick up a green salad or grilled summer vegetables in Willamette University's Goudy Commons, check to see where the lettuce and the green beans came from — they might have been grown by students next to you in line.

About a year ago, a group of students interested in farming and sustainable agriculture worked with Willamette's Center for Sustainable Communities to create a garden at Zena Forest, the university's outdoor research station. This summer, the project expanded to a half-acre plot that will continue to supply Bon Appétit, Willamette's food-service provider, with sustainably-grown produce for campus.

Organizers hope Zena Farm will become a community resource by providing a place to conduct sustainable agriculture research and to host food-related classes for students and area residents.

The educational portion of the project began this summer when six students participated in the six-week Summer Program in Sustainable Agriculture. When they weren't learning to care for the lettuce, garlic, arugula, beans, potatoes and peas in the garden, the students took two for-credit courses to learn about the origins of agriculture, agricultural policy and agroecology, and they visited local farms for inspiration.

Getting Zena Farm started:

Jennifer Johns, associate director for sustainable agriculture programs: "I was hired to help get the farm up and running, and to organize the summer program. The students and I discussed the best ways to develop the farm, and several of them also started a club to support our efforts, the Alternative Agriculture Community."

Katy Giombolini '10, environmental science major, one of the founders: "We started by building a small garden behind Zena's farmhouse, and that helped us develop ideas for planting techniques. Then we cleared a larger field and planted a cover crop during the winter to prepare the soil for growing food."

Why they wanted a farm:

Johns: "By selling our food to Bon Appétit, we are closing the food circle and helping Willamette take one more step towards being a sustainable university. We're not trying to make people farmers here — we're trying to give them a more global perspective on how food is produced and how to become a more responsible, sustainable citizen."

Giombolini: "It was nice having the freedom to try new things. None of us really knew what we were doing, but we tried different techniques, and learned from the experience. I'm going to Maine after graduation to work on a farm, and my experiences at Zena helped me get that job."

About the summer program:

Johns: "Through classes, hands-on instruction and field trips, we wanted to give students the opportunity to delve into the theoretical background of sustainable agriculture and experience the practicalities of growing their own food."

Susa Lynn '12, history major, summer program participant: "Through my classes at Willamette, I have enjoyed studying how different systems interact with each other. This program has showed me how the agriculture system affects the political and economic systems, and how they're all part and parcel of each other."

Why they enjoy the farm:

Giombolini: "It's so beautiful and peaceful at Zena. It's fun to be able to say, ‘I helped get this project off the ground.'"

Jonnie Dunne '10, environmental science major, one of the founders: "A group of us met out there every Sunday, and it was relaxing to spend time in a beautiful place with a community of people working towards the same goal. By helping to plan the farm — and making decisions on how to control pests, water flow and nutrients — I've been able to put many of the ideas I learned in ecology into practice."

Also on campus: Kaneko Garden

Students and faculty also planted a vegetable garden near Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) and Kaneko Commons, Willamette's newest residential facility.

The project brings together TIUA and Willamette students who are interested in gardening. The students keep part of what they produce, donate some to a local food bank and grow plant starts for Zena's garden.