Barry McNamara  |  Published June 27, 2023

Life Credits and Blueberries

Both are in abundance at Monmouth College’s seven-acre farm on the east side of town.

HANGIN' WITH THE CREW: Biology professor Eric Engstrom (right) is pictured with this year&#39... HANGIN' WITH THE CREW: Biology professor Eric Engstrom (right) is pictured with this year's student interns at the College's farm and garden. From left are Michael Andal, Madyson Goodwin, Kaid Landon and Croasdale. Not pictured is Emma Seybold.MONMOUTH, Ill. – In early June, three dozen alumni and spouses who attended the Golden Scots Celebration stopped by Monmouth College’s seven-acre farm (and its garden near campus, too), where they heard from the five-student summer work crew and from Craig Vivian, who is one of the co-directors of the initiative, along with biology professor Eric Engstrom.

One of the Golden Scots asked Vivian if the students – who this year include Michael Andal ’26, Croasdale ’24, Madyson Goodwin ’24, Kaid Landon ’24 and Emma Seybold ’24 – received course credit for the 40-hour workweeks they put in throughout the summer.

“They don’t get any academic credit for being on the crew, but they get a lot of life credit,” replied Vivian.

Engstrom agreed with that assessment.

“There’s a right way to do everything out here, and we get things done,” he said. “There’s a feeling of satisfaction when you do that.”


Training the mind

Engstrom said the farm experience goes deeper than that, though, as it engages students in a task, such as picking the farm’s bumper crop of blueberries, that keeps their minds active for hours at a time.

“One of the things we struggle with today is focusing our brains,” he said. “We used to be able to read for hours without taking a break, but now screens have played with our brains. We have trouble focusing on things for more than 15 minutes. Being out here, students have a space where they can feel the breeze, smell the soil, have a conversation, and think about who we are and where we’ve been.”

“One of the things I love doing out here is picking the blueberries. I love standing out there under a canopy all day, talking with the other interns while we work. I really enjoy working out here. I’ve never had a bad day.” Kaid Landon


“One of the things I love doing out here is picking the blueberries,” said Landon. “I love standing out there under a canopy all day, talking with the other interns while we work. I really enjoy working out here. I’ve never had a bad day.”

Engstrom said problem-solving is also part of the life-credit equation, be it helping to improve a crop or repairing equipment.

“There’s a lot of troubleshooting out here, like fixing the wood chipper,” said Engstrom. “We took it apart and put it back together. We try to let the students get into that type of thing as much as possible.”

ASPARAGUS, ANYONE? Kaid Landon offers some of the farm's bounty to the Golden Scots who visit... ASPARAGUS, ANYONE? Kaid Landon offers some of the farm's bounty to the Golden Scots who visited in early June. Andal, who took a three-week hiatus from the farm in June to earn even more life credits during a College-sponsored research trip to Singapore, praised the benefits of being part of the crew.

“It’s hard work, especially in this heat,” he said. “The work can be tedious, at times, but you gain something from doing this type of work. I love this farm. It’s hard work, but we love what we do.”


Education > market

The students on the crew gain a much stronger appreciation for all the factors that contribute to a successful harvest. Vivian said one of the main purposes of the farm and garden is to provide that type of awareness to the public, as well.

“We’re not competing with farmers. We just want to educate people about food and where it comes from,” he said of what he called the College’s “garden-nature” curriculum. “We’ve got lots of little educational projects we can do. It’s easy to do science here. It’s easy to do math here.”

“We do really well selling our blueberries to the public and to Cornucopia in Galesburg, but really, you can erase ‘market’ from our sign out front. We’re better suited as an educational farm than a market farm.” Craig Vivian


And that’s not just for the many elementary school students who take field trips to the farm and garden.

“We do really well selling our blueberries to the public and to Cornucopia in Galesburg, but really, you can erase ‘market’ from our sign out front,” said Vivian. “We’re better suited as an educational farm than a market farm.”


Laughing blueberries

“Everybody loves our blueberries,” said Croasdale. “At the farmers market, they tell us, ‘I’ve never had anything like a Monmouth College blueberry.”

Both Landon and Engstrom extolled the virtues of the College’s main crop, which is flourishing again this year despite an exceptionally dry summer that wiped out the corn crop, which was going to provide feed for the farm’s chickens.

“Everybody loves our blueberries. At the farmers market, they tell us, ‘I’ve never had anything like a Monmouth College blueberry.” Croasdale


“Our blueberries are just laughing at this drought,” said Engstrom. “Both the honey (which Vivian oversees) and the blueberries are going fine.”

Landon said there’s an art to how the blueberries are picked.

A BERRY GOOD TIME: Emeritus professor Ken Cramer looks for some perfect blueberries during a U-pi... A BERRY GOOD TIME: Emeritus professor Ken Cramer looks for some perfect blueberries during a U-pick session at Monmouth College's farm.“They’re hand-picked very carefully and we’re very consistent with how we do it,” said the rising senior. “We’re picking the perfect blueberries out of the bunch. And there are no chemicals on our blueberries. They’re the very best quality.”

“The students really have to think to tell the difference between an almost ripe blueberry and a perfectly ripe blueberry,” said Engstrom.

As the Golden Scots prepared for their return to the main campus, Vivian left them with some parting words.

“This a group of young people working together to create something that is beneficial to them and to others,” he said.

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