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Growth Opportunity

The dirt on Stanford's student farm.

Linda A. Cicero

Archie teaches Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture. The class, along with a handful of student volunteers, keeps the farm running during the spring and fall quarters. "We use a system called biointensive," Archie says. "You can plant the plants more closely together, so you can get quite a bit of production out of very small spaces."

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By Helen Anderson

The University's founding documents state that the trustees "shall have power and it shall be their duty. . . to maintain on the Palo Alto estate a farm for instruction in agriculture in all its branches." A century later, though, students "were reading about agriculture and studying it in classes, but not really getting any practical experience," says Patrick Archie, a lecturer in the Earth Systems program. Co-op houses had gardens, and faculty and staff could exercise their green thumbs on the community farm or the occasional research plot, but there was no place for students from all corners of campus to learn how to grow food.

In 1996, a group of them led by Brian Halweil, '97, petitioned for such a space, and the Stanford Educational Farm was established. These days, the 1/6-acre plot, which sits on land that was once part of Leland Stanford's stock farm, serves as an outdoor classroom for students in a wide range of disciplines. Some courses, such as Food and Community, are service-based. The Science of Soils class is digging pits to analyze nutrient content and quality. A student-initiated engineering class is adding a solar-powered door to the chicken coop. And a group from the d.school is prototyping a low-cost drip irrigation system that they plan to implement in Myanmar.


Helen Anderson, '14, is a Stanford intern.

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