Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Student Agriculture at Whitman Partners With Bon Appetit

Prepping beds in the fall (Tom Vogt, Andrew Reckers, Louisa Rogers)
Photo by Anna Von Clemm

Student Agriculture at Whitman (SAW) and Bon Appétit are redefining the meaning of local produce. Founded in 2009 by alumni Nat Clarke ’11, Natalie Jamerson ’13 and Zoe Pehrson ’13, SAW –– then called the Model Farm Project –– started as a small project to prove that produce could be grown on campus.

The group began growing microgreens in the greenhouse on the Hall of Science’s roof and would sell these to the dining halls to serve in the salad and sandwich bars.

“SAW was started by a group of students who were interested in improving the sustainable food and local food and the impact and understanding that students have around the dining halls,” said current SAW co-president Chelan Pauly.

Now four years later, SAW has expanded to own a 30-foot by 50-foot plot of land off-campus. This land was previously occupied by a shed behind a Whitman-owned off-campus house, but SAW members have turned it into a garden with beds and compost. The club used money earned from selling their microgreens to Bon Appétit to pay for a drip irrigation system, seeds and other gardening essentials.

“It’s a totally self-sustaining club,” said Pauly.

Funds from microgreen and other crop sales provide the club bank account with money to purchase supplies deemed necessary. SAW currently has about $2,000 dollars in their account.

“It’s not profit that we are receiving, but it’s sitting there and saving up so the next time we want to do a project, we can buy things we need,” said Pauly.

This can include anything from wheelbarrows or hoes to dirt and seeds. While SAW does make a profit off their crops, the members generally view it as a project not purely for the cost benefit.

This being said, the prospect of making money off their cultivation is exciting to members.

“The microgreens are a great profit,” said SAW co-president Kira Murray. “Bon App pays us market value for things, so we’re getting what other farmers around here are getting.”

With the addition of the new plot of land off campus, SAW has been able to grow a broader range of crops and can even grow through the winter season. The club is now growing not only microgreens, but also tomatoes, winter squash and mushrooms.  During the winter months, the rooftop greenhouse still allows growth, making it possible for SAW to sell to Bon Appétit year-round.

While SAW is contributing produce to Whitman dining halls, it is not a significant percentage of the total produce used by Bon Appétit. This is not a surprising fact considering that the club is less than five years old. But club members are taking steps to remedy this.

“We are really just trying to figure out how to maximize the space we have on the plot,” said Murray.

Fortunately for the club, Bon Appétit is equally excited about the localness of SAW’s produce and is open to an increase in club-grown vegetables in the dining halls.

“Bon App tries really hard to support local producers,” said Jewett Dining Hall Manager Laura Palachuk. “Even if it means paying a little more, we would rather buy locally than have it trucked in.”

Bon Appétit’s desire to stay local also ties in to connecting with the campus and the student body.

“We work with the campus –– we feed you guys, so it makes a lot of sense to have you guys involved in feeding yourselves,” said Palachuk.

Dedicated students pause for a photo after tearing out plants (from this Fall).
Photo by Anna Von Clemm
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