The Acadia Community Farm, a half-acre of fertile dykeland behind the Athletic Complex, is a vibrant part of the University’s sustainability programs, student education, and community outreach. It’s also a link to Acadia’s earliest history.
“The University was founded on farmland, and we had a working farm on campus that provided food for all students here,” says Jodie Noiles, Sustainability Coordinator. “The farm operated until 1956, when the student body had grown beyond what the farm could feed and the University needed to expand the campus.”
In 2008, students Alex Redfield and Hilary Barter revived the farm in its present location with help from other students, faculty and staff. They wanted to create an opportunity for growing healthy, sustainable food.
Since then, the organic farm has been integrated into several academic programs for research and teaching, including Nutrition and Dietetics, Biology, Community Development, and Environmental & Sustainability Studies. However, it’s not limited to those programs. “We’ve had students involved over the years from Music to Politics to French,” Noiles says. “Students find their way to the farm and make it relevant to their own studies and interests. Many have gone on to find ways in their personal and professional lives to connect what they’ve learned here.”
This year, the star of the farm was a beehive provided by local beekeeper Kevin Spicer with support from Perry Brandt. “Students in biology and other programs are learning about beekeeping, native bee species, threats to bee populations, and integrated pest management,” Noiles says. The project is a collaboration between the Acadia Farm, the Department of Biology and the Acadia Beekeeping Club.
Focus on sustainability
Although the farm is small, it’s important to Acadia’s overall sustainability program in terms of fostering a sustainable food system and addressing food security issues on campus and in the community. The farm donates to the Wolfville Food Bank and sells food to Chartwells, which manages food services on campus.
“Chartwells loves working with the Acadia Community Farm and purchasing their produce and herbs,” says Laura Miller, Director Food Services. “We’ll purchase everything they grow. In recent years, they’ve adapted what they’re growing to give us more variety and volume for students. The produce is beautiful, and freshness couldn’t be better. We typically use everything the farm brings within 24 hours of delivery.”
Sarah Boudreau (’18), Acadia Community Farm Coordinator, decides what the farm will plant to sell to the University’s dining hall. “We love to grow tomatoes, and they’re our most popular item. We also grow cucumbers, wax beans, Swiss chard, kale, beets, carrots, pumpkins – quite a variety,” she says.
The community component of the farm consists of 40 large gardening plots, available free of charge in exchange for a few hours of volunteer time during the growing season. Last year 33 of the community plots were spoken for, says Sarah, who coordinates the community members.
Students manage farm
“Even though the farm comes under my stewardship as its director, students play a central role in its day-to-day operations,” Noiles explains. “Every season, we hire a student farm coordinator who works with the volunteers and the community gardeners to manage the farm. It’s important that students have that leadership opportunity and an opportunity to learn management skills.”
As farm coordinator, Sarah also organizes free workshops for the community and students. “I did a composting workshop this summer, and in the past we’ve done Season Extension, and Gardening 101 for those who have never gardened before,” she says. “The workshops help bring people in and give them confidence to plant their own garden.” In addition, her work involves community outreach: talking to community members and students to get them involved in volunteering or using a plot.
“I think the farm gives students a sense of empowerment over their own food,” Sarah says. “Some students on campus have gardens at home and appreciate being able to plant a garden here. Many international students, especially those from large cities, are fascinated by it.”
To Sarah, what matters most is making people feel welcome and knowing that she’s helped them. “If I can impart a piece of knowledge to every person who’s there, I feel I’ve succeeded in helping people with gardening and promoting awareness of where their food comes from,” she says.
“It’s a great project,” Noiles adds. “Students have an opportunity to learn how food grows and to participate in growing food, and it complements their education. But it’s a real community-building project as well.”