On a Sunday afternoon in September, a man ambled his way down rows of swiss chard, fertilizing them with an organic fish emulsion liquid. A hundred yards away, several people crouched down on their hands and knees yanking weeds out of the soil. Inside the barn, yet another student sat cross-legged while hand-painting colorful signs that say, “tomatoes” “kale” “onions,” etc.
All this was happening half a mile away from campus at Dilmun Hill, Cornell’s student-run organic farm that provides subscription boxes of vegetables for its members. And the man working on the farm was Christian Kanlian ’20, a plant science major and one of four student managers of Dilmun Hill, along with Zoe Loomis ’21, Brian Caine ’20 and Lily Cowen ’21 — most of whom had little to no prior farming experience before coming to the farm.
“We are open to anyone who is hardworking and passionate,” said Cowen.
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a popular distribution model for farms large and small. Community members pay a seasonal flat rate, and, in exchange, receive a box of fresh fruits and veggies every week worth approximately $20. Giving students access to affordable, seasonal, local produce is the name of the game.
Becky Davidson ’21, a new CSA member, was impressed by the variety and amount of produce that she receives in her weekly box.
“In my most recent share, I received potatoes, cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, basil, squash, kale and a head of lettuce.” The tomatoes are her favorite — “there’s such a huge difference between conventionally grown tomatoes and local tomatoes.”
The produce for the CSA boxes is harvested at weekly Wednesday “work parties” between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. from their 12-acre farm and nearby high-tunnel. The farm also hosts work parties on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. during which student volunteers assist with weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning; anything that needs to get done.
However, a continuous uphill battle for the managers is transportation to the farm. The lack of a nearby TCAT bus stop (the closest is at the Vet school) forces people to rely on carpooling or walking to get there in time for work parties. CUAES is currently working on building an access road from Cornell Orchards to partially ameliorate this problem.
The farm is opening its barn doors to the community on Saturday, Sept. 21 for their Fall Farm Festival. Free tacos from Bickering Twins catering, yoga, live musical performances, tours of the crops are just some of the activities that visitors will experience.
Kanlian said that his experience at Dilmun Hill has inspired him to pursue a career in either agriculture policy regulation or sustainable food distribution after graduation. Cowen agreed that working at the farm has taught her more about agriculture than some of her food systems classes.
Upon arriving back on campus for his senior year, Kanlian said his first few days of class were stressful. But as soon as he arrived back to the Farm, he breathed a sigh of relief, “I missed having dirt under my fingernails.”
“I think that being a part of growing your own food allows there to be a larger reward when it comes to consuming it later,” said Davidson. “Just like cooking, when you make something yourself, it tastes better.”