THE BLOG
03/10/2014 07:13 pm ET Updated May 10, 2014

We Didn't Know We Needed It Until We Had It: A Campus Farm

We had paced the entire length of the 150-foot bed, straining to glimpse a touch of green hidden amidst the rocks and clumps of sun-dried soil. Pete casually kicked the baking dust and joked, "It's not like these carrots are my livelihood or anything."

A burst of laughter escaped before my breath caught. I paused. These carrots certainly formed part of Pete's livelihood. We needed them to grow but had to consider the possibility of crop failure. A week later, we exclaimed as green pinpricks squeezed through tired, dry soil, arriving on the tail end of a typical one to three week germination window. Had they never appeared, Tobin or Pete would have tilled the soil under and tried again or planted cover crops, knowing that they faced the particularly difficult challenge of reviving these tired fields that had supported chemically-treated corn for years, until this past summer.

And so, in the winter of 2013, Tobin Porter-Brown and Pete Mclean didn't just agree to create a campus farm for Amherst College; they became stewards of the land and creators of a new community. As the spring arrived with melting snow and T-shirts in 40-degree weather, Tobin and Pete met with students, finalized a loose set of field plans, and began to assemble the infrastructure necessary for a small, organic, start-up farm.

A hoop house appeared with the help of friends at a neighboring farm, while bees arrived as part of a graduate student's thesis. Compost heaps dotted the field's edge while an Amherst local experimented with composting and built his own business. However, the Amherst town was not the only community gathering around the incipient farm; Amherst College sparkled with excitement about the farm as students realized we would be eating food grown on our land, and professors dreamed of classes taught on site. A tractor appeared on campus, accompanied by a student in a chicken suit. Students designed the Book and Plow Farm logo and organized the first annual Farm Fest, which 1,200 people attended -- an epic turnout for a school of 1,800. The Center for Community Engagement created internship opportunities, encouraging Amherst students to spend the summer working for Tobin and Pete, which is how I came to stand in a bed of unseen carrots with Pete, kicking dust and learning life lessons alongside organic farming.

I will never forget the experience of interning at Book and Plow under the incredible leadership of Pete and Tobin. In less than a year they have established a vibrant community around their farm and positively impacted the lives of everyone at Amherst. Student groups learn about sustainability as they volunteer in the field while others build special topics classes that Pete and Tobin visit each week. The two are role models on campus and engage students in an entirely different type of education, one in creating personal connections, leading a fulfilling lifestyle, taking pride in physical labor, and respecting the earth. Amherst College would be incomplete without their presence.

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