Mills’ first farm manager digs in
(Calli Storrs) Alisha Strater is Mills’ first farm manager, a job that requires a wide range of skills such as organization, communication and outreach. Here she is layering cardboard that supports mushroom mycelium with new cardboard that has been soaking in water, so that the mycelium have more food and space to grow.
Alisha Strater sitsÂ on the gravel of the greenhouse, peeling apart cardboard that’sÂ been soaking in water. Carefully, she layersÂ the cardboard with white dots of mushroom mycelium to encourage growth.
Strater, Millsâ€™s first Urban Farm manager, has only been here for a little over a month and has already dived into planningÂ and incorporating the farm into the Mills community.Â The farm is projected to be completed by 2020, a fairly quickly paced timeline, so the base built now will set the tone for the years to come.
Strater has experienceÂ workingÂ asÂ aÂ farm manager at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, organizing educational farm tours, and starting a campus farm at Castlemont High School â€” down the road from Mills â€”Â in just one year.
Karen Fiene,Â the co-chair of the Sustainability Committee and member of the Urban Farm sub-committee, was impressed with Strater’sÂ eight year experience inÂ integrating educationÂ withÂ agricultural environments.Â Out of the hundred resumes, Fiene felt that Strater fit the bill as Mills’ new Urban Farm manager.Â
â€śSheâ€™ll put the thought and time into making it meaningful,” Fiene said. “Thereâ€™s a deep level of caring for the land.â€ť
Strater began her career in the agricultural education industry in 2004 when she was hired as a puppeteer to perform a show on local versus non-local food sources. That show made her think about her relationship with the land, and catalyzed her journey into agriculture.
From there, StraterÂ gathered experience that fit with the Urban Farmâ€™s three focuses â€”Â the farm itself, curriculum involvement, and community inclusion â€” along the East Coast then moved to California in 2014 and continued as the farm manager for Castlemont Farm.
TheÂ farm is situated on the side of the slope down from Ethel Moore and Mary Morse residence halls. There are 2.5 acres set aside for the farm.Â She is looking to get a small garden in that area up and running before summer begins and expand it later. Eventually,Â she will start requestingÂ quotes for a deer fence, see what greenhouse space is needed and network with students.
Strater teamed upÂ with biology professor Sarah Swopeâ€™s Plant Ecology classÂ toÂ plantÂ mushrooms that willÂ precede the orchard.Â The fungi roots will help extend the root system of the trees and aid in getting the trees all the nutrients and water they need.
StudentÂ Andrea KuftinÂ is currently enrolled in the Plant Ecology class.Â She believes that growing your own food can be empowering and promotes a healthy mind and body.
â€śIt would be really beneficial to get students involved in urban agriculture,â€ťÂ Kuftin said.Â “She seems like a go-getter and is always very friendly.”
Beyond the immediate future, StraterÂ hopes to engage the Mills students andÂ bring local community members in to work on the farm.Â She has high expectations for the farm’s future such asÂ starting a committee for food justice,Â havingÂ animals on the farm, offeringÂ workshops and fundraisers, andÂ experimenting with medicinal plants.Â As of now, sheÂ is focused onÂ knowingÂ what the Mills and East Oakland communitiesÂ want from the farm.
Strater welcomes the local community and feels that Mills students can learn from working on the farmÂ and from working in neighborhood projects that already exist.
â€śI see it as a real potential for Mills to have beneficial relationships with the community that it exists in,” Strater said.