Barry McNamara  |   Published June 20, 2017

Farm and garden continue to grow

Students help College farm and garden thrive
  • Members of the Monmouth College Market Farm summer work crew is pictured at a recent U-pick session. From left are Olivia Howey, Bota Yergaliyeva, Abigail Danner and Daniel Johnson. Not pictured is Jon Cunningham.
MONMOUTH, Ill. – On a warm, sunny morning in June, an inviting hammock stretched between two shade trees on Monmouth College’s 6.7-acre market farm.

Maybe later, one of the five members of the farm’s summer work crew would enjoy a few lazy moments on it, but on this particular Monday they were all weeding rows of raspberries and blueberries in preparation of a “U-pick” session later in the day.

One of the students, Bota Yergaliyeva ’18 of Astana, Kazakhstan, has worked at the farm and the College’s Educational Garden since after her freshman year.

“It’s something I’d never done before, and I was up for a challenge,” said Yergaliyeva, who said that her previous ventures growing things resulted in “killing all of my indoor plants.”

Instead of faded ferns or jaded jade, Yergaliyeva now helps tend to a variety of thriving crops, including kale, spinach, lettuce, chard, tomatoes, bell peppers, soybeans, corn and squash. Some of the vegetables are grown in a “high tunnel” greenhouse, which covers a calendar year with its two six-month growing seasons. A chicken coop also produces a couple dozen eggs per week.

“This provides a great break from academics,” she said. “I also like the teamwork aspect of it, navigating how to work with and communicate with others. We have a common goal, but everybody brings different strengths to the team.”

Connecting the Dots  For Yergaliyeva, that strength comes from the ability to “translate” – helping forge the connection between the team’s faculty superviser, English professor Craig Watson, and the rest of the team.

“I can translate the big picture into the smaller picture and what needs to be done, and then do that in reverse,” said Yergaliyeva, who speaks four languages and is studying French, political science and international studies.

The strength of another team member, Daniel Johnson ’18 of Bolingbrook, Ill., is bees.

“Bees are really fascinating to work with,” said Johnson, a biology major. “They’re so highly organized, and if they’re not organized, you know the hive isn’t healthy.”

The farm currently has eight hives, down from a high of 18. Honey production is one of the farm’s trademarks.

“The honey is absolutely delicious,” said Johnson, who works under the supervision of another faculty member, educational studies professor Craig Vivian. “There’s a picture of me with a jar above my head, trying to funnel out the last little bit from the jar.”

Each hive can produce 70-80 pounds of honey per year, said Watson.

“There’s so much demand for it,” he said. “And we sell it for a pretty good price – $8 for a pint and $12 for a quart.”

Increasing honey production is a possibility, said Watson, along with more production from the farm’s 38-tree orchard.

“We’re in a consolidating, reflective mode,” he said.

A Growing Reputation
Located east of North 12th Street, the farm sits on land donated by the late Scott Klukos, a longtime Warren County circuit judge and friend of the College. Watson said the farm has evolved a great deal since it was acquired by the College more than five years a ago.

“There was a huge amount of effort in the start-up,” he said.

Before the farm, however, came the College’s Educational Garden – a half-acre spot located just east of the College’s Founders Village residences.

“There are really two different stories,” said Watson. “The garden is opened up to students in the community, and Craig Vivian is really building up that aspect of it, along with education faculty.”

Watson said the garden is an example of what ambitious backyard gardeners could do with a half-acre, offsetting annual food costs by as much as $9,000.

The other story is the farm-to-market farm, which attracts about 30 student volunteers during the school year. During growing seasons, the farm’s produce is taken to a weekly farmers market, is sold on campus to faculty and staff, and even makes its way on the tables of local restaurants.

The farm recently received some outside help from alumnus Alex McGehee ’81, who followed up a gift of Kubota equipment with a new structure to house it. The building features a “washing station,” which facilitates farm-to-market capabilities.

News about Monmouth’s farm has also spread in higher education. Watson said other colleges have sent representatives to study Monmouth’s farm.

“We’ve received some good notice,” he said. “What we’re doing is unique among schools our size.”
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