KU Student Farm: Growing Sustainability


Local food insight from Greg Beverlin
January 7, 2011, 3:55 am
Filed under: Local Food with Greg Beverlin

Greg Beverlin

Greg Beverlin is a student coordinator for the KU Student Farm, and he has been very involved in the local food movement in Lawrence. He was vice president of Environs last year and a coordinator for the local food group in Environs for two years. He works as a student employee at the Kansas Biological Survey with Kelly Kindscher and Kirsten Bosnak (and me), where he assists with growing medicinal plants and grinding them for medicinal testing. This is his last semester at KU, where he is majoring in Environmental Studies. Greg comes from a farming background–his parents own land in Hillsdale, Kansas and his mom and sister use it to garden tomatoes, basil, jalapenos, pumpkins, winter greens, sugar snap peas, green peppers and strawberries. His family also owns Hillsdale Bank Bar B-Q, where Greg Beverlin Sr. uses local ingredients in his Italian sausage.

Greg has learned a lot in the past couple of years about local farming through his experiences with his parents, Environs and KU. This has helped shape his views of the food system and his personal well being. Here is Greg’s perspective on eating locally.

“For me, personal health is of great value. It affects the way I think, how I move and how much energy I have in the tank to take on the day. When the caffeine and adrenaline begin to run dry, it is my health that keeps me going. My health is a direct reflection of the ingredients in my diet. Carbs, antioxidants, vitamin C: these are just a few of the fuels to quench my body’s thirst.

A few years ago, I began to look more in depth into the foods I’ve so carelessly consumed all my life, I realized that more often than not that I did not like what I saw. I was now faced with the scary realization of not knowing:

Greg gardening at the student farm summer 2010

Not knowing where my food came from, who grew my food and what ingredients are in my food. Dextrose, glucose, sucrose … where in the world did these ingredients come from? I probably did not want to know. My solution? I decided it would be better to base the majority of my diet on foods whose origins I was familiar with: local farms. Not a lab, a factory or a sea of monocrops coated in a cloud of toxic fumes to act as a shield against the natural world. Local farmers, whose faces I could recognize at the farmer’s market. The farmers who stood by their word that their products were of the highest quality for my health and the health of the environment. This created a connection among the farmers, the food I eat, and me that was built on trust.  I knew what I was getting, and it made me feel good.”



Gardening at the student farm with Nicholas Kotlinski
November 1, 2010, 9:04 pm
Filed under: Gardening with Nicholas Kotlinski

A great start for the plot

I had been in search of a garden space all spring and summer. I needed to test my growing knowledge with some independent study work in order to supplement my experience as an apprentice on an organic vegetable farm. By having my own plot, I could experiment free from all the helpful hints that an overseeing farmer provides. It may not seem important to those with garden space, but to a student with little access to land in a town where the few urban open spaces are crowded by trees and impenetrable shade, places like the University of Kansas Student Farm are invaluable. The farm is close to town and offers a place for proactive learning about gardening.

Fortunately, I found out about the student farm and jumped at the chance to do some of my own planting. In early September, I met up with Kim Scherman, one of the farm coordinators, who was nice enough to help me out for my first planting. Just 2 feet from the first well-established plot, we carved out a 25- by 3-foot bed.

I had asked my boss, Jill Elmers of the Moon on the Meadow Farm what she thought I should plant, and she enthusiastically collected an assortment of fall crops for me to try out. The bag of seeds included beets, turnips, radish, kale, head lettuce, salad mix and spinach. These are basic crops that start well in early fall and can heartily take some of the early cold weather of the season. The crops were selected for their ability to be direct seeded. Not having to start the plants in a greenhouse saves time and energy; you can get them into the ground fast. Kim and I direct seeded everything with little to no preparation except for prepping the bed.

Beets

For the beets, we used a hoe to make a 25-foot furrow and dropped seeds every few inches. We covered them up and watered them in. We planted the radishes and turnips in two rows, with both crops taking up half the length of the plot. We staggered them in a zigzag pattern so the plants would have space to grow and would not need to be pulled because of overcrowding. This method didn’t seem to work, and I got a disorderly but quite productive crop. We sprinkled the salad mix and spinach over the tilled soil in their respective rows, then covered the seeds with soil using a rake. I didn’t rake in the spinach well, and the heavy rains that came just after planting sent all the spinach seeds into the salad mix, creating a colorful blend of plants. Kale is doing well too, though the encroaching salad mix has to be cut back from time to time so the kale can get enough sunlight.

Because we had about two weeks of constant rain after planting, I didn’t need to check on the plot or do any watering. After the rains had stopped, I checked in on the garden. Everything had sprouted pretty consistently (minus spinach because of my ineffective seeding method). I showed up at the garden regularly to water and ready to do some weeding and hoeing a few times but really never had any issues with weeds. Therefore, it wasn’t really necessary to mulch

The salad mix is getting higher and higher, and I can’t get through the stuff fast enough. I’m cutting up what spinach I can get, and the radishes are out and eaten. Turnips are coming out and delicious,

This salad mix looks good enough to eat!

and the beets are getting bigger by the day. I also hope to plant and mulch two raspberry plants, which are perennial, so that next year’s student farm participants can enjoy a “fruit garden.” The farm is an amazing project, and to share space with the Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden makes it even more appealing as a place to learn about growing.

I hope students have the ability to build and expand the garden in the future and make it a greater space for community and students to interact and grow their own food.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to continue growing at the student farm next spring because I’ll be graduating from KU. I’ll be heading down to Peru this winter to explore, work on my Spanish, and convince a few farmers in the selva alta (high jungle) to allow the gringo to help in their garden plots and small farms so that I can learn more about agricultural change in Amazonia. By spring, I hope to be back in Kansas putting something into the ground.

-Nicholas Kotlinski, senior in anthropology



Helpful hints from the University of Minnesota Student Organic Farm
September 7, 2010, 1:44 pm
Filed under: University of Minnesota Organic Farm

Here we are: at the beginning of the fall semester and the beginning of the life of the KU Student Farm. We have just begun our efforts to raise and maintain a great and sustainable garden. The garden is stable right now and is even producing lots of eggplant, tomatoes, leeks and cantaloupe. We could not be happier.

A lot of things have to happen before this farm really takes off. We have a lot to learn.

Katherine Boulware

I interviewed Katherine Boulware, Outreach Coordinator from the Cornercopia at University of Minnesota Student Organic Farm. I found out how her farm began, and how it has progressed to the present. Katherine told me that this is the fifth year for the Cornercopia.

She explained: “The farm began when a few of members from the student group WUSA (What’s Up in Sustainable Agriculture) were granted some land on the Universities test plots to experiment with sustainable gardening techniques. The group then asked for space to start a student farm, which the college granted with the stipulation that it be used for educational and research purposes.”

The Cornercopia was one acre when it began, and now has expanded to three! The project began with 14 interns, who found funding through several grants. Now, the seven interns (including Katherine and a volunteer coordinator who maintains the blog: http://cornercopiafarm.blogspot.com/) are paid through research grants and income from farm produce.

Cornercopia's market table 2009

A common concern with any budding student farm is how to reach an audience to raise awareness and excitement about the garden. The Cornercopia had a similar obstacle, and Katherine informed me about the ways the students got the word out about their farm. “Interest spread outward from the WUSA group and also from MISA (Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture) which has an office on campus,” she said. “Many of the students and faculty who are on the St. Paul campus work with agriculture or horticulture so there are a lot of people interested in the farm in that respect.”

Cornercopia farming

Unlike our student farm, Cornercopia is set up as a communal garden. Currently, one acre is continuously planted. It is one large, consolidated garden in which each intern is in charge of one or two blocks. Various plots include areas for nightshade crops, squash and spring crops, such as lettuces and radishes. There are also a couple of high tunnels in separate sections where students grow raspberries and tomatoes.

The Cornercopia has so much land and participation that I had to wonder what the students did with all of that food. The farm sells its produce to the campus farmer’s market and is able to produce enough produce to supply some of the produce served at University Dining Services. The accomplishments don’t stop there. Cornercopia also has a partnership with Campus Club, a restaurant on campus that incorporates local products. “They take a lot of what we produce as well, ” Katherine said. “We do our best to make the farm economically viable so we’re always looking for ways to market our produce to fund the farm for the next year.”

I asked Katherine what she wishes she would have known in the beginning.

“I think as the farm has gone on there have been a lot of opportunities to learn by trial and error, ” she said.  “Some planting strategies attracted lots of beneficial insects but made harvesting a nightmare. We’ve also learned the importance of proactive weeding and mulching practices as well as having good wide paths. Most importantly it’s good to think ahead: there’s always a lot more work that needs to be done than you think there will be.”

Thank you, Katherine for your useful information. I hope that we can learn from some of your practices, and keep in touch.

Exciting news: Our first student plot was planted Monday afternoon. Nicholas Kotlinski now has his own garden at the student farm filled with a variety of seeds, including salad mix, spinach, beets, turnips, radish, and kale. Nicholas is a senior majoring in Anthropology. He has been working with Jill Elmers at Moon on the Meadow farm this summer, part of the Growing Growers program. He has also been helping out Tom Buller at the Wakarous Valley farm. More from Nicholas coming soon … (To find pictures of Nicholas and his new plot, please see the University of Kansas Student Farm facebook page.)

Congratulations, Nicholas!

Want to have your own garden at the KU Student Farm? Please email me at kim.scherman@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading,

Kim



Our First Planting
July 8, 2010, 1:04 pm
Filed under: Our First Planting

Hello all!

Watering our new plants

We had our first planting on June 28, 2010! It is so exciting to actually SEE the Student Farm become something tangible. Now it’s not only a name…it’s a place with a row and a half of tomatoes and onions. There were three people in attendance-Greg Beverlin (the other coordinator), Nolan

(my extremely helpful boyfriend), and me. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain to readers how we planted the rows. It sounds easy enough… 1) get plants, 2) go to farm, 3)dig hole in ground, 4) place plant in hole, 5) cover hole, etc., but really it is so much more carefully laid out than that. There are essential steps to growing food organically (and successfully 😉 ) that I had no idea about until I helped out with the KU Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden. These steps may seem elementary to some, but they are crucial to keeping the plants healthy. I think everyone should understand the process:

Starter plant

1) Bring plants. The plants were grown under Greg’s supervision in the greenhouse before they were planted at the Student Farm. We acquired some from Kelly Kindscher as a donation. All plants were starters and looked something like the image to the right.

2) Hoe the area where the plants will be. We are lucky to be on Class I soil in the Kansas River bottom. It is very rich soil that is easy to work with. It is similar to sand-not too tough to break through and perfect for packing around the plants once they are in the ground. I sat back and watched as Greg hoed and Nolan pushed through the soil with a shovel. The land had already been disked (a soil preparation method that breaks up the soil in order to uproot weeds).

3) Lay out the measuring tape and mark the increments where the plants will be placed. For the tomatoes, the increments were about every foot; for the green onions, every half foot. This works well if you have two or more people. As Nolan was marking the increments and creating holes in the soil for where the plants would go, I was making sure the lines were straight as I put the plants in the holes. I covered them and packed down the soil around the plant to keep it from tilting. (Note: You should be planting north to south so that as the sun moves from east to west, all the plants receive even sunlight.)

4) Set down several handfuls of alfalfa pellets around the base of the plant. Alfalfa pellets are great organic fertilizers. They enrich the soil and help in the development of healthy plants.

5) Next, lay straw around the plants. Straw keeps the weeds out and away from your plants. It also keeps the ground moist and breaks up the soil as it decomposes.

6) Put down wood chip and leaf mulch on top of the straw. It provides an additional layer for moisture retention, holds down the straw and decomposes more slowly than the straw.

7) Water the plants until sopping! We knew our starters would need to adjust a lot because they had been in a protected environment—the greenhouse. We helped prepare them for the sun’s rays by giving them plenty of water to hydrate and protect them. If you would like to know how you can help out with the Student Farm, such as watering the plants, harvesting, or transporting the vegetables to a food bank, please email me. We would love to have your help!

Thanks for reading!

Kim

Kim and Greg

PS—For more pictures please friend the University of Kansas Student Farm and check out the album “First Planting.”  🙂



What is the KU Student Farm?
June 2, 2010, 5:45 pm
Filed under: What is the KU Student Farm?

The KU Student Farm is newly tilled plot of land just north of Lawrence where students can grow their own food. It’s next to the Lawrence Municipal Airport and Prairie Moon Waldorf School, on the grounds of the KU Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden, headed by Kelly Kindscher and Kirsten Bosnak. And it’s available to students now! (See my contact information at the end of this post to set up your garden.)

The garden is a project of the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, which is based at KU’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry and the Kansas Biological Survey. The plants grown in the garden are native to the Great Plains. These plants and others are being studied for their natural medicinal compounds, which could be used in natural remedies, health-care, food and cosmetic products, pharmaceuticals and veterinary products. Find more on the program’s website: www.nativeplants.ku.edu.

photo by Wally Emerson

Kelly Kindscher is the faculty advisor for the Student Farm. I have only worked with Kelly for a little while, but it is already clear how much of a force he is here in Lawrence and how much he is supported by the community. He was recently on the discussion panel at the showing of the movie “Dirt!” at Liberty Hall. Kelly is one of those few people who truly lead by example, and I look forward to working with him more this summer! To read more about Kelly visit http://www.kbs.ku.edu/people/staff_www/kindscher/facweb_kindscher.htm.

Photo by Kim Scherman

Kirsten Bosnak is the manager of the medicinal research garden and the staff liaison for the Student Farm. She majored in English and journalism (just like me!) and began her love of gardening when her mom gave her her first packet of nasturtium seeds when she was four. I interviewed Kelly and Kirsten and a few other people interested in the Student Farm, and I don’t want to give all of Kirsten’s story away … yet. Kirsten is such a sweet person who I can connect with. I am not an environmental studies major, but knowing that Kirsten is able to actively participate in environmental issues and comes from an English/journalism background is very inspirational for me. Kirsten designed the KU Native Medicinal Plant Research Program’s website too. Check it out!

photo by Kim Scherman

Greg Beverlin is the other coordinator for the Student Farm with me. Greg was a local food coordinator for Environs last semester, and next semester he will be the vice president! Greg works with Kelly as a student employee at the Kansas Biological Survey and has spent a lot of time working on the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, with data, greenhouse work and at the garden. Greg helped put on the showing of Food Inc. last fall, and he has been working with KU Dining Services to bring more local food to campus. I can’t wait to see how much he accomplishes next year as VP! (Random side note: I just recently found out that Greg’s family produces THE SAUCE — barbeque sauce — found in the supermarket!)

I am so excited that we have a plot of land that’s close enough to KU to be accessible, yet far enough away to be an escape from all the homework and stress of college. We are still figuring out the specifics of how it will operate, but, so far, the idea is this: Each KU student will contract for a small section of our plot of land. There, they can plant whatever they want for themselves or friends.

Jennifer Kongs, another member of the Student Farm who works with Bob Lominska (founder of Hoyland Farm and part owner of Central Soyfoods) said, “What better way to be a student and be poor and not have to go to McDonald’s!” The goal is to get students interested in growing their own food and learning about the importance of sustainability in our world. Most students do not have the space to grow their own garden, whether they live in a dorm or an apartment. This farm gives students that chance.

Thanks for reading!

Kim Scherman

scherman@ku.edu

(785) 218.9488