Often forgotten, Vassar Farm a host of opportunities

The Vassar Ecological Preserve and Poughkeepsie Farm Project, pictured above, offer opportunities for students and Poughkeepsie residents to engage with farming education and the environment. By: Jonah Bleckner
The Vassar Ecological Preserve and Poughkeepsie Farm Project, pictured above, offer opportunities for students and Poughkeepsie residents to engage with farming education and the environment. By:  Jonah Bleckner
The Vassar Ecological Preserve and Poughkeepsie Farm Project, pictured above, offer opportunities
for students and Poughkeepsie residents to engage with farming education and the environment. By: Jonah Bleckner

One of the first things a visitor of the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve sees as they walk down the drive and into the gravel lot is the cheery, hand painted sign of the Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP). And as one moves throughout the farm, he or she may come across a rugby match or a couple of Vassar students hanging out with friends in a space that many members of the College community are striving to maintain, first and foremost the farm’s managers, Jeff Horst and Ana Jamel from Buildings and Grounds.

Although the farm is made up of almost 530 acres and is utilized by both Vassar students and Poughkeepsie residents, there are still many people on campus who don’t know much about it, or even how to get there.

Fortunately for interested students, the Farm is only a short ten minute walk away and there are a wide variety of opportunities to get involved there.

PFP is a community organization that leases part of the Farm’s land from the college. Before 1957, the Farm was actually used to supply fresh produce and meat to Vassar, but now the majority of food production is coordinated by them.

According to their website, farmproject.org, the mission of the PFP is to work “toward a just and sustainable food system in the Mid-Hudson Valley by operating a member-supported farm, providing education about food and farming, and improving access to healthy locally-grown food.”

Megahn McDermott ’13, the Cofounder and Community Outreach Coordinator of Vassar’s Slow Food club, explained why the Vassar dining services no longer get any food from the Farm.

She said, “A lot of faculty members and students buy CSA shares, but PFP doesn’t have the output in order to do an institutional purchase that would need to be done by Vassar,”

She continued, “It’s not the Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s interest. The only way they are involved with us is that they have interns through the field office, as well as work study, but there’s no actual food coming from the PFP to Vassar.”

However, though the All Campus Dining Center does not serve up heaping platefuls of PFP veggies, this does not mean that there are not many ways students can be involved with the Farm: There are a limited number of community garden plots available on the land, which can be rented for personal food production by students, faculty or community members. For those interested in more direct involvement with the PFP, there are a variety of internship opportunities available as well.

David Orkin ’13, a leader of the Vassar Experimental Garden, worked as the PFP’s education intern last summer.

In an emailed statement he wrote, “While working at the PFP I had a couple of different roles—facilitating farm visits and cooking lessons for kids as young as 5, high schoolers, and adults, working in an educational seed-saving garden, and helping the farm staff with community education and outreach programs in Poughkeepsie. The supportive work environment at the PFP allowed me to get creative with my work and infuse a lot of what I’m passionate about into the operations of the organization.”

He also explained, “The position was organized through the Community Fellowship, which is run through the office of Field Work… In general, the PFP offers work-study and field work operations on the actual farming side of things and in the education department.”

The Vassar Farm is home to more than just the PFP, however. Around 80 percent of the Farm’s 527 acres is protected land that makes up the Vassar Ecological Preserve. Kerri VanCamp, manager of the Preserve and Field Station, described the role of the Preserve in an emailed statement.

VanCamp said, “This land was preserved as a natural area in order to provide students and researchers a living laboratory where they can learn about their environment. Students often visit the preserve during a class to learn about biology, earth science, or environmental studies. Some students choose to make the VFEP a focal point of their studies by conducting independent research. In a program called Exploring Science at the Vassar Farm, classes from local elementary schools are taught about natural history by Vassar students. Students also help with stewardship, outreach, and research through work-study positions, fieldwork, and by volunteering.”

VanCamp  also mentioned the Farm’s seven miles of trails, which are open to both Vassar students and Poughkeepsie Residents. These trails are used by many students, including Vassar’s Cross Country Team, for running, walking, or biking.

Katie Ewen ’15, Co-President of the Vassar Outing Club, expressed her enthusiasm for this resource in an emailed statement. She said, “Personally, the trails are definitely my favorite aspect of the Farm/Preserve. There are numerous paths to choose from, and these go through woods, over streams, across meadows, and over hills. They are beautiful in every season and a great, easy escape from everyday life on the main campus. I maintained the trails for a semester during my Freshman year, and even though I no longer work at the Farm, it’s still in my opinion one of the best parts about Vassar. I would really encourage anyone to take advantage of the Farm and Ecological Preserve!”

How to Get There: The Vassar Farm is located just across Hooker Avenue at the Southern end of Campus. Head over to Skinner’s parking lot, and keeping walking on Raymond away from Vassar. Soon after passing Shipping and Receiving you’ll hit the intersection of Raymond and Hooker and see the farm’s sign.

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