by JANET MANDELSTAM
Life has slowed down at the 10-acre Indiana University Campus Farm. The winter fields and fruit trees are dormant, but there is still work to do.
“We have some produce in greenhouses, there’s maintenance, and we will be ordering seeds and planning for the next growing season,” says the aptly named James Farmer, director of the farm.
The land produces crops like tomatoes, lettuce, squash, carrots, and onions, as well as flowers. “But,” says Farmer, “what we produce most is knowledge.”
The farm is an outdoor classroom for students, faculty, and the community. The research conducted there “fulfills the mission of a university,” says Farmer. Current research includes studying varieties of organic mulch and exploring ways to extend the growing season.
Before joining the IU faculty, Farmer was adviser to the student farm at Earlham College. “I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t students at IU have the same opportunity?’” So he co-founded the farm in 2017. Two words that pepper his conversation are sustainability and regeneration. “We grow organically, use-appropriate fertilizers, and try to minimize waste,” he explains.
That philosophy meshes with the background of Erin Carman- Sweeney, the farm’s first and only manager, who grew up on a small organic farm in southern Illinois. “Pre-pandemic we did outreach to young people and IU students, bringing them to the farm” where Farmer led classes on soil health and how to regenerate the soil.
Much of the farm’s bounty is shared with local food banks. “It is in our mission to support emergency food relief,” Farmer says. Also on the receiving end is David Tallent, IU’s executive chef. Thanks in part to the farm, Tallent says, “the percentage of locally sourced food served on campus has increased from 1–2% in 2015 to 15% by 2020.” Food picked in the morning can be on a dinner plate on campus that night. “The farm also grows food specifically for us,” says Tallent, who recently requested fennel.
Additional produce is sold at a seasonal weekly farm stand.
The farmland on Pete Ellis Drive is leased from Bloomington Restoration Incorporated. Community volunteers are welcome. “They can get their hands dirty planting or staff the farm stand or help with social media,” says Farmer. Visit iufarm.indiana.edu.