Student farmers growing opportunities
By AMANDA GEE
Some people want to grow enough food to feed the world, but a group at Purdue University just wants to grow enough food to support individual communities.
Members of Full Circle Agriculture at Purdue, who began operating a five-acre farm on the west side of campus in 2010, are ready to redesign the space they have so they can grow more plants and expand their reach. They want to teach farming sustainability to others and help teach communities about agriculture on a smaller scale.
"I want to provide my community with food they can eat," said Mary Lehmkuhl, BS '12, co-founder and a member of club.
Michael Dzakovich, a member since the club's founding in 2010, said some people in his hometown of Northbrook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, didn't think much about where their food came from.
"There's no farm nearby. It (agriculture) is kind of abstract to people," he said. "FCAP is an organization to primarily educate students but at the same time educate the public about food."
Members want to show that growing food is within anyone's reach.
FCAP started leasing its small parcel of land in 2010 and has made significant improvements since then. But there was no major planning involved in the farm's development.
"We did whatever came to our head because we only had about five serious people," said Steve Hallett, club adviser and associate professor of botany and plant pathology.
Photo by Tom Campbell
Purdue senior Ahmad Tarmizi Razak carefully plucks one of the last remnants of summer from a tomato vine at the Purdue student farm.
Phase one for FCAP was acquiring the land, and phase two was generating resources. Hallett said the club is now entering phase three — development — and needs to consolidate into a sustainable business and start bringing in money regularly so the farm can help support itself.
The biggest task facing the club is to develop a plan to continue its growth.
"We're working on efficiency improvements," said Ashley Holmes, a member who was a summer intern at the farm.
Members have brainstormed ideas and plan to add more hoop houses to the two that were installed for the summer growing season.
Hoop houses are temporary steel-framed, plastic-covered structures that help shelter plants from the weather. Holmes said the hoop houses and one movable high tunnel the club plans to buy will help extend the growing season and bring in more revenue for the organization.
With more hoop houses, the club might be able to devote one hoop house to Purdue's Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management. The department, part of the College of Health and Human Sciences, regularly buys produce from the farm for its restaurants across campus.
With more enclosed spaces, the club wants to show people that crops can be grown year-round.
"Our goal is to sell something every week of the year," Lehmkuhl said.
She hopes to start growing plants such as tomatoes, rosemary, thyme and sage earlier than normal and work on closing the long gaps between growing seasons.
The club has started offering CSA, or community-supported agriculture, baskets of produce that are specific to each growing season. Members did a test run during the summer and into the fall.
The program averaged about 12 customers a week and helped club members establish a routine that has started them on their way to being a trusted supplier.