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Connections, collaborations have helped grow garden, farm

Barry McNamara
05/18/2018
Front row, from left: Olivia Howey ’19 of Rasnov, Romania; Daniel Johnson ’18 of Bolingbrook, Ill.; Bota Yergaliyeva ’18 of Astana, Kazakhstan; Naa Comley Commey ’21 of Accra, Ghana; and Samy Moinies ’18 of Cairo, Egypt. Back row, from left: Biology professor Eric Engstrom and English professor Craig Watson. Not pictured: Declan Crego ’21 of New Glarus, Wis., and Jon Cunningham ’19 of Woodstock, Ill.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – It takes a village to raise … a crop.

That’s what attendees at the final Monmouth Associates program of the academic year learned during a presentation Thursday about Monmouth College’s Educational Garden and Market Farm by faculty adviser Craig Watson and three members of the Garden Crew.

Two of the crew members – Daniel Johnson and Akbota Yergaliyeva – graduated from Monmouth on May 13. The other student – English major Olivia Howey ’19 of Rasnov, Romania – has taken over from Yergaliyeva as summer manager of the garden and farm.

Watson explained how the garden and farm benefit from the expertise of faculty members from several disciplines – including biology and chemistry – as well as from a number of College staff, community members and alumni.

“We’ve worked hard, but we’ve been truly fortunate in the friends that we’ve attracted,” said Watson, who originally proposed what has become the garden and farm during the 2008-09 academic year. “For me, the prize – and to a certain extent, the unexpected harvest – of this project has been how many connections we’ve made, the support we’ve received not only on campus but in the community, and the collaborations we’ve managed.”

A notable alumni contribution was made a few years ago by Alex McGehee ’81, who donated a Kubota tractor and other equipment. Other contributions have included fertilizer from Rainbow Riders, promotional materials from Kellogg Printing and a tent for the group’s farmers market, funded by emeritus professor Jim De Young and his wife, Jan.

Time and talent have also been received in abundance. One of the more unique talents was provided by educational studies professor Craig Vivian, who got the group’s popular honey business off the ground.

“The beekeeping has been a unique opportunity,” said Johnson, a biology major. “I don’t know where I would’ve gotten that experience elsewhere.”

Johnson said having the opportunity to work at the garden and farm helped him get established on campus. Yergaliyeva had a similar experience, and she referred to the honey, specifically.

“I was a city girl from Kazakhstan,” said Yergaliyeva, who is staying in Monmouth this summer to work on a bee internship before starting graduate school at Kent State University. “I never dreamed I’d be covered in dirt in the middle of a field, in a place where there is more corn than people.”

Part of her culture shock was experiencing allergies, but some advice from Vivian helped her adjust.

“As soon as I started eating the honey, my body physically acclimated to this area,” said Yergaliyeva, a magna cum laude graduate who earned degrees in political science, international studies and French. “When my body acclimated, my mind acclimated to this area, as well, and I started digging in the soil, and I started digging around and collaborating with other people.”

Watson explained that some students receive a Sustainability Scholarship to attend Monmouth, and “scholar” is an apt description for most of the Garden Crew.

“We attract excellent students,” he said. “Our average GPA is about 3.75 of everyone who’s come through the garden in the last eight or nine years.”

Watson said the garden and farm continue to have many benefits besides simply growing fresh produce. Among them have been providing educational programming for area children, assisting and engaging the local community, and making connections throughout the region. Several institutions, including four from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, have visited Monmouth to learn how its garden and farm operate.