scents of corn, berries, and verbena,
Wander through the Sontag Greek Theatre, then head south under the canopy of oak trees. The short walk will lead you to an oasis, bursting with vibrancy and color. Bright yellow sunflowers, eight feet tall, peer over a seven-foot stand of corn with dark elongated leaves and taupe tassels. Smaller plants, seemingly jumbled together, crowd the foreground.
Welcome to Pomona's Organic Farm, started by a small group of students in spring 1999 who wanted to experiment with organic farming and test theories about sustainable agriculture learned in the classroom. Most had never grown anything beyond a house plant.
Today, if you wander around the farm's perimeter, you'll find stands of corn, spiky artichokes, thick squash vines snaking over low stone walls, berry bushes on rustic trellises, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, poppies, watermelons, daisies, passionfruit vines, nasturtiums, fennel, sage, mint, verbena and fruit trees, along with a myriad of yet unknown plants. At its north end, under a large shady oak, you'll find a gathering spot--a circle of comfortable chairs, a blue couch, and a wood table made from a large cable spool.
In the last year, the farm has doubled its cultivated land to almost an acre, expanded its tight-knit community to more than 50 regular visitors and workers, and become a vital and inspirational resource.
Among the founders still involved are Adrian Deleon '01, Geordie Schurmann '00 and Tae Jeong '01. "It's been a great hands-on experience and an inspirational place to test our theories," said Schurmann.
"The farm," said Jason Buhle '02, "is a very accepting laboratory. Things might not be planted in the best place or they might get stepped on, but that's okay. Students still get the experience of growing something."
"We try to let nature do as much of the work as possible," says Schurmann, explaining the philosophy of the farm. "Worms till the earth just as well as machines, if given a good environment. We use straw and clover to keep in moisture and try not to leave the soil barren. We're bringing forth the beauty of the land, so it's cool to come down and watch people have the same feelings that we have in this place."
Severine Fleming '04 agrees. "The farm brings lots of people together. They go there to do yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, and drumming. Even on weekends people hang out and do homework. They're thoughtful, reverent and hard-working." Clearly a farm devotee, Fleming stresses that the farm reinforces education. "It's a model for stuff that's happening in the real world, a place where we learn about sustainable living, land-use issues, sustainability, and irrigation. The farm is teaching us skills we can take away from college."
Last spring, the farm's philosophy spread into Pomona's curriculum. Two courses paid regular visits to the farm and another group of students conceived and helped to coordinate an independent study course about sustainable agriculture.
Heather Williams, assistant professor of politics, used the location to make agriculture less abstract to students in her course, The Global Politics of Food and Agriculture. "Some students tend to think of farms as something far removed from their lives," she explained. "I wanted them to recognize that natural resources are all around us and that the possibility of integrating agriculture into life is right here." Topics in the course included migrant labor, California water rights, food in the developing world, land reform issues, peasant agriculture versus capitalist industrial systems, genetically engineered crops and how the advent of processed food has changed the global pattern of food consumption. "At the farm, students could more easily think about what grows versus what we actually eat. For example," she asks rhetorically, "what exactly is a Twinkie?"
The independent study course with Richard Hazlett, associate professor of geology, provided students with a way to combine their interest in the farm with academic learning. Assigned readings on agriculture and environmental issues and weekly discussions provided the framework for student projects that ranged from a scientific survey of the farm's soil biology and a survey of land usage, to building a reference library for student farmers and the coordination of the donation and planting of 40 fruit trees. "Not only was it a great hands-on experience," says Buhle, who was one of the teaching assistants, "but we felt like we were doing something good for the campus and the community."
To Hazlett, the farm offers students the opportunity "to come face-to-face with a huge new world, one that underscores the tremendous disconnect between urban life and our roots. What's been lacking from the curriculum of many urban colleges is the ability to give students a sense of where their resources come from. The farm fills that void."
"Lots of students approached the class with high-minded ideals of natural farming," said Hazlett. "But they found out that you can't control food production without having to fight or compromise with natural competitors. They could understand that they were creating a whole ecosystem. With this awareness comes caring and stewardship, and with that negative impacts can be avoided."
The students in Professor of Politics Richard Worthington's Politics of Environmental Action class visited the farm and other landscapes of The Claremont Colleges in order to observe the environmental values they represent. Worthington used the farm to represent a conscious attempt at a balanced relationship between people and nature. "Most of the campus landscapes depict nature as something separate from people," he said. "The farm demonstrates the practical viability of alternatives to the biological imperialism that is the basis of industrial society."
For those who gather regularly at the farm, it is that balance and its attendant energy that draws them. For Doug Morrow '02, the farm fulfills his desire for a sense of connection to the place where he lives. "There's such a sense of contentment and being outdoors that you don't get at other campus places," he explains. "Yes, you have a major road nearby, but the birds are singing, there are butterflies, and the lizards are going crazy all around you." --Cynthia Peters