The Student Farm and Covid-19: What's Currently Happening
By Kayden Gleaves, Environmental Science and Management ‘20
When the campus moved into suspended operations due to COVID-19, the Student Farm had to adapt quickly to a Spring Quarter like we’ve never had before. We developed new standard operating procedures and safety measures related to COVID-19 and also posted informational signs at the farm. We moved all of our internships on-line and had to close the farm to in-person internships and volunteers.
In normal years, Spring is one of the most bountiful and busy times at the farm. Here are some voices from Lead Student Farmers still on-site.
Mariah Rubin, Lead Student Farmer in the Fresh Focus, Global Disease Biology '21
How has Fresh Focus changed since social distancing went into effect? “Unfortunately since campus is closed, a lot of our partners’ centers are closed and we are unable to deliver to them. Additionally, we are also not having any interns or volunteers working with our program in-person this quarter. I think this is one of the biggest changes to the program. Usually we deliver to 6 locations, but now all of our donations are going to the grocery bag distribution collaboration by The Pantry and Aggie Compass.”
Do you find there are fewer people using the Fresh Focus resources, now that learning is remote? “I think that one major challenge to providing access to produce is that we’re not sending produce to spaces where students might feel most comfortable accessing resources. However, although our capacity to donate produce is reduced due to not having the incredible help of interns and some Lead Student Farmers being away as well, I think that we are still able to provide produce to a lot of students. The collaboration I mentioned before with The Pantry and Aggie Compass is benefiting hundreds of students every week. I’m grateful that my fellow Lead Student Farmers have been working so hard to continue donations despite the incredibly difficult circumstances!”
Alany Valle, Lead Student Farmer in the Ecological Garden, ESM '20
Have you changed the way you handle produce? “In the Eco Garden we all now have our personal gardening gloves, we used to have pairs for anyone to borrow and return, but now each of us has an assigned pair with our names on them in order to remove contact through gloves. We also have changed how we divide tools. Now we cannot share tools during the same shift, we each must all maintain the tools we need for ourselves and at the end of every shift disinfect them.”
What are the main differences working in the Eco Garden, compared to previous quarters? “The biggest difference in the farm now versus the past is mainly how much emptier it is. During a normal school year, the student farm was bustling with people be it in the form of tour groups, students coming in and out of class, curious community members, and all of our interns… It feels a lot less interactive, we all still get the learning experience from working here but not the socialization that really builds on the knowledge you can share with each other.”
Sarah Frederich, Lead Student Farmer in the Market Garden, IAD '20
What are the main differences working on the Market Garden now versus in the past? “One main difference working on the Student Farm now is that interns, volunteers, and those taking PLS 49 can no longer come to the farm due to COVID-19. In the past, especially during Spring Quarter, I remember many people coming in everyday to the farm. There was always a strong hum of activity with a consistent flow of people. Now, it is normally 5-8 or so Lead Student Farmers working per day...”
What do you miss about working with interns? “I miss that exchange of ideas and knowledge and the overall conversations that happen when working with interns, volunteers, and those taking the PLS 49 course. I love watching people's expressions when I can show them how to harvest a new crop for the first time or how to sow seeds. I also appreciate when I learn new things about agriculture and farming from others. Also, the conversations about life experiences, hobbies, school, etc. that happen with interns, volunteers, and PLS 49 students are all things I definitely miss.”
Kyle Rizzo, Lead Student Farmer in the Market Garden, Plant Sciences '20
What social distancing practices are in place at the Market Garden? “We try our best to keep 6 feet apart. We often split up and harvest alone, we drive our vehicles alone, and we try not to have more than two people in the packing sheds at any given time. Other tasks have changed a bit too, like transplanting… we no longer have our weekly team meetings on Mondays, where we typically share lunch and plan the week ahead.”
Does the lack of interns make completing tasks more difficult, or do they take longer? “The farm without interns is quite different. There are some tasks that go slower with fewer hands working on them, and other tasks that actually might get done sooner because they might require a bit of a learning curve for new folks doing them. Teaching is a big part of the Student Farm and is always a balance with production... learning takes time and energy and mistakes, so without it, some tasks may indeed go faster, but learning is what makes the Student Farm what it is!”