Just across from Little Grill Restaurant off Dyer Road, about five miles from campus, is the K-State Forestry Research Farm. That wide-open field is home to Willow Lake Student Farm, which is moving into its third year of operation.
K-State Student Farm, also called Willow Lake Student Farm because of the axial road across from Tuttle Puddle, is one of the first student farms ever created in the United States. Another is located at Johnson County Community College and is affiliated with K-State’s.
Rhonda Janke, faculty adviser for the farm and associate professor in the department of horticulture, forestry and recreation resources, said there are approximately 60 student farms in the U.S.
“Twenty of those are at ag schools, and the other 40 are at liberal arts colleges — schools without an ag program,” Janke said.
Despite the fact that it is not an agricultural school, the University of Kansas has six students who are working on a sustainability project for an Environmental Studies Capstone course centering on starting a student farm at KU. Land has been allotted to KU for the project
Meghan Bock, KU senior in environmental studies and Spanish, toured Willow Lake April 8. She said she came to K-State on her own initiative because she saw it as a great learning experience seeing first-hand what a student farm looks like and how it functions.
“I definitely enjoyed visiting, and even though it only started three years ago, I could tell that a lot of progress has been made,” Bock said. “I will definitely be applying a lot of the information I took away from the visit to this project.”
Janke said Bock was fortunate to come on a day when the students were working in the farm.
Willow Lake is supported by the horticulture department and was created so students can have hands-on experiences in class. One class which uses the farm for labs is vegetable crop production, which Janke teaches.
The farm is not only for agriculture students, however. Willow Lake Farm Club is open to anybody. This includes mainly other students, but members of the community are involved as well.
“You don’t have to be an Ag major; people from all the colleges are part of the club,” Janke said. “We don’t necessarily meet every week, but we do have campouts, cookouts, work days and workshops for education and outreach purposes.”
Bock said student farms are not only beneficial to the university, but also to the community. At KU, Bock said they are trying to shed light on the importance of knowing where the food comes from and how it got there in order to live a healthier lifestyle and live in a more sustainable manner.
Bock said she hopes this project will forge a greater connection between the two. She said it is their goal to provide a local source of organic food through either Community Supported Agriculture or the local farmer’s market.
K-State has already done so with repeat customers like Noel Schulz.
Starting April 22, this will be the farm’s first year selling as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and their spinach crop will be ready to sell at the Earth Day celebration.
“Willow Lake plans on selling produce on campus just north of Hale Library in the quad on Monday mornings from May until October,” said Aaron Yoder, senior in horticulture. As student farm manager, Yoder oversees the production and marketing of the produce.
In 2008 and 2009, crops were sold at the farmer’s market. In 2009, they were also sold at the campus market on Tuesday afternoons. This year, an online subscription service as well as a campus market will be implemented. Janke said one can place an order online and pick it up Fridays.
Yoder said the farm is growing over 30 types of vegetable crops and plans on extending its growing season with hoophouses, using “good ol’ fashioned hoeing and mulching.”
Loyal customer and promoter of Willow Lake, Lynn Feldhausen, junior in horticulture, said the produce is fresher and tastes better than any of the area stores because the students pick it that morning or the night before they sell it, so produce “can’t get much fresher than that unless you grow it yourself.”
If you would like to become a member of the online ordering system or want to know more information on the Student Farm Club, Yoder said to feel free to contact him at email@example.com. Also, Janke said the next meeting will be Monday, April 19, in Throckmorton 3039. A visit to the farm is included in the meeting.