Middlebury students tend to the garden

MIDDLEBURY — A lone wooden sign on Route 125 west of Middlebury village marks the Middlebury College Organic Farm, tucked on a slight rise in the gently rolling field beyond Bicentennial Hall.
Even though regular classes are not in session, the farm is active, with summer interns busily cultivating a half-acre of land to produce vegetables and herbs for consumption in the college’s dining halls.
The property also has two hoop houses containing plants, a small shed and a structure used as a classroom and a place to wash produce in the shade. Farm Educator Jay Leshinsky has been at the helm of the project since its founding in 2002 as a student organization.
“The goal,” Leshinsky said, “was to complete the food cycle within the college.”
He added that the farm continually accomplishes this goal, explaining that the farm grows the food used in dining halls, composts the waste, and uses the compost to grow more food.
This summer, four interns are employed at the farm as part of FoodWorks, an internship program for Middlebury students focused on local food and sustainable development. Leshinsky’s role includes overseeing the interns and directing general management of the garden.
Farming intern Marissa Perez explained that the FoodWorks program itinerary includes visits to area food producers and supplemental reading, all part of an effort to gain a “truly expansive view of the Vermont food systems.”
Much of the learning is also student-driven, said intern Katie Weatherseed.
“Whatever the interns are interested in learning, we’re able to incorporate,” said Weatherseed. She explained that this year the group is learning about growing herbs using permaculture techniques. Permaculture refers to the quest to plant in a way that is self-sustaining and supportive to other plants in the garden.
In addition to offering students educational opportunities, Perez added, “the farm is a really nice community space.”
People come to walk, watch the sunset, or even do yoga, the interns reported. A wood-fired pizza oven is under construction for use by college students and community members alike.
Between the regular academic year and the summer language school, Middlebury College is the primary customer for the produce grown here. However, when the school isn’t in session, food is sometimes sold to the Otter Creek Bakery or donated to the HOPE food shelf in Middlebury. Food is also sold during the fall at a farm stand on campus.
Students love eating food that came from the college farm, including student intern Alison Surdoval.
“Most of the food we grow goes to the dining halls,” Surdoval said, “which is cool because it really goes full circle and we get to eat it later.”
When school is in session, all students are invited to visit the farm to give gardening a try or just see what it’s all about.
“Some students come regularly, and some come only once in their whole four years,” said Leshinsky. “But every one of them has contributed to what’s here now, which makes it really rewarding to me.”
In addition to providing organic food resources and valuable learning activities, the interns value their experience on a deeper level.
“Gardening is very therapeutic,” said intern Maelenn Masson. “It’s nice to spend so much time on something that’s valuable. You see the results of your efforts growing.”
Editor’s note: See a video of the college’s organic garden in the summer on addisonindependent.com.

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