At the edge of Ohio University’s Athens Campus, just past the OHIO Innovation Center, a long gravel driveway leading toward the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway ends at the edge of the OHIO student farm. The sustainable agriculture garden is surrounded by a tall fence of bamboo, and one must follow the path through an enchanting round doorway to enter a space of experiential learning and growth.
Just outside the bamboo fence is the student production garden, which includes multiple growing plots as well as a large high-tunnel. Throughout these garden spaces, a variety of produce is grown, some of which is sold on-campus at Jefferson Marketplace. The student farm also vends at the on-campus farmers market, sells to the Atrium Café in Grover Center and hosts produce sales for the public at the café and on-site at the student farm in the warmer months.
In addition to the farm’s various points of sale, it donates to the Cats’ Cupboard Food Pantry located on the fifth floor of Baker University Center and to Athens Food Rescue. Those who visit the farm, attend the sales or purchase produce from the Marketplace will not find stereotypical farmers producing and providing the food. Instead they’ll find students from across the University learning what it takes to grow, market, promote and distribute produce starting from the seed and ending at the tables of students, staff and community members.
One of these students, Jennifer Vandeman, an applied nutrition major, found the student farm through her search for a work study position. What she thought would have to be a monotonous desk job turned into an opportunity to expand what she could offer patients as a future registered dietitian.
“If I’m going to be giving people advice, I want to be able to say I got my hands dirty and I can understand from the roots up what it takes to live a healthy and sustainable life,” said Vandeman. She also enjoys working sales as she gets to meet the people coming and purchasing the food, hear what dishes they are making with it and determine why they are looking for certain things.
Vandeman grew up in Athens and remembers visiting the farmers market frequently when she was younger. However, when she visits the market now, she has an entirely different understanding of what it takes for farmers to get to that vendor table. “They have to go through their whole week of picking things, they have to package things, they have to get it ready for the sale and they have to make sure it all looks good and that it’s not wilting and all of that,” said Vandeman. “There’s so much work behind the sale, but [the sale] is all you see.”
“It’s just really rewarding and satisfying to be able to be involved in that process. You have appreciation. They really care about the community or else they wouldn’t be doing it, because it’s a harder way to get your money. There’s much easier jobs than farming.”
Vandeman, like many other students working on the student farm, is getting a valuable learning experience while providing fresh food for fellow students. Future plans for the student farm involve securing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification to sell to Culinary Services’ Central Food Facility.
Internships and volunteering opportunities with the student farm are open to all students. Read on to meet more of the OHIO student farmers:
Class of 2022
“It helps with having a heavy [class] schedule to step away from those dark fluorescent lit rooms and kind of get outside and play in the dirt a little bit.”
Class of 2019
Sustainable Health and Wellness
“I love getting to spend so much time with the plants, and I love being able to get involved with the food that the community gets to eat. We’re working for the people closest to us.”
Class of 2019
"As a business intern, I help with all sales work, inventory, counting money, graphs and record keeping. I didn’t even know this existed until I talked with Dr. Moran. It‘s cool to get a feel for the farming community of Athens. We have to go to the farmers market and talk with them as part of our internship”
Class of 2019
“I love it as a destressing thing for all my senior classes. I love coming out here”
Class of 2021
“I started working here as part of volunteering for a class but I’m thinking of coming more often now. I’ve had a lot of fun picking tomatoes and peppers so far.”