Tucked away along the MacArthur Boulevard fence, at the foot of a steep hillside lays one of the greatest potential resources that the Mills campus has to offer. The Mills Farm is a relatively small plot of land where students, staff, and faculty have put much time and effort to help create something wonderful.
Linda Zitzner, the associate vice president for operations and chair of the campus farm sub-committee sees the Mills campus farm as an educational tool. It is for students to learn about health and nutrition, while also connecting with one another and building a community through a unique experience.
“We are all agrarian by definition,” Zitzner said. “The farm helps to raise everyone’s awareness for our food sources…and shows our connection to the Earth.”
As college students, it may be hard to make a fully conscious effort to live healthy, especially with stressful academic responsibilities, limited budgets and active social lives, but there are people and organizations on the Mills campus that have made the students’ health a priority.
As part of the campus farm sub-committee, Zitzner and the other members oversee strategy, problem solving and organization as it relates to the farm, while the farm volunteer group takes care of the manual labor. The volunteer group has a diverse mix of students, faculty and staff who meet regularly for productive work days.
As of now, the farm is fallow due to last year’s frost, but a previous season has yielded produce such as carrots, daikon, Chinese greens, broccoli, fava beans, and a mesclun salad mix.
“Some years are better than others,” said Zitzner. “This is one of the years where we are struggling.”
But that should not discourage anyone from the cause. There is a strong hope from those involved that many people will become more involved with this project.
While most volunteers are currently residential students, the campus farm sub-committee is looking to diversify. According to Zitzner, commuter students, who often do not have enough free time because of tight schedules and long commutes, are often overlooked or left out of some of the activities that occur on campus. Zitzner is looking to include these students by offering work days with flexible hours.
Interactive programs for the education complex and Julia Morgan School students have also been discussed. The biggest incentive with these programs is the invaluable information that children would learn about health, nutrition, and the importance of sustainability.
According to the Center for Disease Control website, obesity in school age children has more than doubled in the past 30 years. If schools provided students with “healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity,” it would help lower the risk of adult obesity.
These programs would also be financially lucrative, which would help to pay for the costs of maintaining a farm. In a New York Times article highlighting campus farms, it was reported that many universities with on campus farms have seen increases in profits. An example of this would be Cal Poly, whose farm store “has become a financial buoy in a sea of state budget cuts…” the New York Times article said.
Zitzner said that the hardest challenge they’ve faced has been the inexperience of some of the people involved. But the beauty of not knowing is experimentation. Alternatively, when asked what the biggest success was, Zitzner chuckled and said, “That it launched!”
Eventually Zitzner would like to see fruit and nut orchards along the hillside and a compost area that would utilize the Tea Shop’s compostable items, i.e. coffee grounds. Presently, there are talks about a potential bee farmer renting a small plot of land to pollinate.
Bon Appétit has committed to buying any fruits and vegetables that can be produced by the farm to help supply Founders. Ideally, if the farm were to continually produce, the long-term goal would be to possibly provide up to 50 percent of vegetables needed, pushing Mills closer to its ultimate goal of sustainability.
In an attempt to engage students, the campus farm sub-committee is in the process of planning a farm dinner. “Harry Potter” is the chosen theme and students who are avid “Harry Potter” fans are encouraged to attend and possibly help organize the event. Keen knowledge of Harry, Hermoine, and everything Hogwarts is needed and much appreciated! The dinner is April 22, conveniently scheduled during Earth Week.
For questions about getting involved email Linda Zitzner at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations are always welcome!