Barry McNamara  |  Published June 16, 2021

‘A Great Experience for Students’

Monmouth College’s farm and garden crew enjoy being part of special opportunity.

THE CREW: From left, Tala Tabashat, Hannah Pitman, Olivia Croasdale and Jacob Duncan. THE CREW: From left, Tala Tabashat, Hannah Pitman, Olivia Croasdale and Jacob Duncan.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Students looking for the farm experience but without traditional farmers’ hours should take a hard look at joining Monmouth College’s farm and garden crew.

Rather than having to rise before the sun, crew members are able to start their days at 8 a.m. at the College’s Educational Farm and Garden, where they all have special projects to keep them busy in addition to the daily upkeep of the two distinct areas, which are both located east of campus.

Biology major Hannah Pitman ’23 of Oneida, Illinois, is tasked with the bees and the herb garden, the latter with the help of volunteer Tala Tabashat, a rising junior at Macalester College in Minnesota studying environmental science, and Monmouth student Olivia Croasdale ’24 of Mapleton, Illinois.

“I’m working with Professor (Craig) Vivian on the bees, and I’m learning about their maintenance and just about bees, in general,” said Pitman. “I’ve always been kind of scared of bees, but I’ve also been fascinated by them. The first time, I was a little nervous, but I actually held a bee and it could’ve stung me, but it didn’t.”

The fruits of their labor

English major Jacob Duncan ’22 of Aledo, Illinois, has prior experience at the farm through his former academic adviser, now-retired English professor Craig Watson, who also served as director at the farm.

“I’ve come back because I just enjoy the rewarding nature of taking care of a crop and harvesting it and seeing the fruits of our labor, literally and figuratively.” Jacob Duncan

“I’ve come back because I just enjoy the rewarding nature of taking care of a crop and harvesting it and seeing the fruits of our labor, literally and figuratively,” he said. “I’ve just enjoyed being around nature, because I’ve never been an outdoors person, but I’m starting to be that way more and more the longer I do this.”

Duncan is tasked with the mowing of both properties, although he’s intentionally not doing it as often.

“This year, we’re keeping the grass high at the farm in order to encourage a bit more wildlife to stay around, increase the soil productivity and make it a little more of a nature preserve out at the farm,” he said.

The daughter of Monmouth faculty member Petra Kuppinger, Tabashat is taking advantage of an opportunity not offered at her urban college.

“I wanted to do something over the summer that relates to my major,” she said. “I do a focus in sustainable design at my school. The practices we do here are very sustainable. Getting to work hands-on with that is a really great experience for me.”

“The blueberries are one of our biggest moneymakers. We sell them to stores and restaurants, and then we have our U-picks for them, and we also have them at the Farmers Market.” Olivia Croasdale

A philosophy major, Croasdale is in charge of the blueberries and the chickens.

“The blueberries are one of our biggest moneymakers,” she said. “We sell them to stores and restaurants, and then we have our U-picks for them, and we also have them at the Farmers Market.”

Monmouth’s Farmers Market is held from 5:30-8 p.m. every Friday on the Public Square. Some of the other major items from Monmouth’s farm and garden available there are strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, asparagus, honey, sweet potatoes, apples, garlic and blueberry jam.

“We have seven baby chicks who are just living in our ‘Kubota Lodge’ until they’re fully feathered, and then we will let them out to roam,” said Croasdale. “We have six other chickens – five hens and one rooster, named ‘Lucky.’ Our biggest project with the chickens this summer is to get them off of store-bought feed and feed them things that we grow.”

That’s part of a sustainability effort that has long been a part of the farm and garden’s philosophy.

“(Farm co-director Eric) Engstrom’s main goal is to make this farm completely sustainable, so that it runs on solar power,” said Pitman. “He wants it ‘off the grid,’ so he wants a self-sustaining flock, which is why we got ‘Lucky.’

Try it, you’ll like it

Watching something grow from seed to plant is part of the appeal of farm work, and this year’s workers hope the farm crew will also experience growth in the near future.

“It’s such a special thing that Monmouth has this. It’s such a great experience for students. We’re in all different majors, and we get to apply that knowledge to the land and be with nature.” Tala Tabashat

“Professor Engstrom said a few years ago there used to be a lot of activity out here,” said Pitman. “There was a really big garden crew of five interns. He said it kind of ebbs and flows. There will be periods when people are really interested and periods, kind of like now, where people don’t know about it. I wouldn’t have known about it had I not volunteered” through her “Introduction to Evolution, Ecology and Diversity” class with Engstrom.

“It’s such a special thing that Monmouth has this,” said Tabashat. “It’s such a great experience for students. We’re in all different majors, and we get to apply that knowledge to the land and be with nature.”

Duncan thinks a fear of the unknown is likely holding back more students from the fulfilling work at the farm.

“I think people are kind of scared to come out here,” he said. “The first time I was out here as a volunteer and we were planting garlic, I was scared to do it, because I didn’t want to do it wrong. I think since some people don’t know anything about it, they are scared to get involved.”

“We encourage anyone to apply,” said Croasdale, “because you don’t need any prior experience and it’s such a great experience.”

“It’s enjoyable to come out here and put in work, and it goes by quick,” said Pitman.

“Even Fridays, the 12-hour days we work, it goes by so fast, because we actually enjoy what we’re doing,” said Croasdale. “There’s never a dull day out here.”

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