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A new educational farm on the “Farm”

Stanford students learn both theory and best practice of agricultural sustainability on six-acre site.

By
Ker Than
Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
October 15, 2015
A group of people standing in front of a ribbon
Ribbon cutting during the dedication ceremony of The O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm. From left to right: Heidi Welch, Pamela Matson, Patrick Archie, Terry Huffington, Laura and Kevin O'Donohue. Credit: Stacy Geiken

Scores of alumni, faculty, students, and supporters of sustainable agriculture gathered October 14 to dedicate the The O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm on six acres near the university's historic Red Barn. Visitors toured crop fields and greenhouses; sampled foods made with farm-grown produce; and had a chance to take home organic tomatoes, peppers, sweet corns, and dahlias grown on site as a memento of the event.

The educational farm program, developed by the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, is a key component of Stanford's commitment to preparing the next generation for critical environmental and social challenges of the 21st century. “The farm embodies Stanford’s–and especially the School's–commitment to addressing some of the most critical environmental and resource challenges of the 21st century,” said Pam Matson, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “It will be a place where transformative leaders grow at Stanford.”


Credit: Alexander Atkins

Undergraduate courses such as Ecological Farm Management and Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture are being taught at the farm, along with field laboratories for other courses, independent study research classes, workshops, and events aimed at educating youth and drawing the Stanford and local community in to experience the farm. “You’ve read about education going online, and I think there are advantages to that, but we’ve got to continue to come together in educational environments like this farm, which will be great for growing our future leaders,” said lecturer and farm director Patrick Archie. 

The project came out of nearly 20 years of student and faculty advocacy to develop a learning farm on “the Farm.” Initiated with the generous support of Laura and Kevin O’Donohue, MBA ‘87, and other donors who are making the next phase of the project possible, the farm is a living laboratory offering academic and experiential learning opportunities for the Stanford community and beyond. “Kevin and I are excited that classes at the educational farm have attracted students from many disciplines across campus, including the Graduate School of Business, and student athletes like Johnny Caspers on the football team. It’s a cross pollination of educational backgrounds that have found a new community of sustainably-minded students,” said Laura O’Donohue.


From left to right: Pamela Matson, Kevin and Laura O’Donohue, Patrick Archie. Credit: Stacy Geiken

More than 100 varieties of vegetables, flowers, herbs, field crops and fruit are grown on the farm, with more on the way. Through research, students test new ideas about the biological, social, and environmental aspects of farm production and gain hands-on experience with the practice of sustainable agriculture. As just one example of this, Archie and his team have been experimenting with different strains of drought-resistant crops and varying watering schedules to deal with California’s current water shortages.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity really to be building this farm in the midst of a drought,” Archie said. “We’re growing an ancient Hopi corn that doesn’t get tall but it produces very nutritious grain. We’re also testing over 20 different kinds of winter squashes to see how they’ll do in drought conditions, and we have tomatoes that are productive and delicious despite being watered only twice a month.”

The farm expects to harvest more than 20,000 pounds of produce annually. Crops will feed into a new farm-to-campus program, with fresh vegetables featured at Stanford Dining, in campus cafes, and at the Teaching Kitchen @ Stanford.

“We’re just getting started,” Archie said. “This place will continue to evolve and get more and more beautiful and productive.”