Meet the K-Staters who manage a farm just outside of Manhattan

Erin Bailey, former student farm manager, sorts produce for the Willow Lake Student Farm table at the Kansas State Farmers Market on Oct. 25, 2017. (Archive Photo by Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

When Kansas State University first opened in 1863, it was called the Kansas State Agricultural College — Aggieville gets its name from the university’s original “Aggie” mascot. While many students are upholding the legacy of agricultural education on the K-State campus, there is also a group of students studying agriculture outside the classroom.

Born out of a student honors project by alumna Lani Myer, the Willow Lake Student Farm is a two-acre, student-run farm located northeast of Manhattan on Beach Drive that has been providing both hands-on education and sustainable produce to the K-State community since 2008.

Today, Willow Lake is home to a variety of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms, along with plenty of student workers.

Whether students are harvesting produce for a research project or attending a workshop on the student farm, Willow Lake is focused on education outside the classroom. Nicole Martini, graduate student in horticulture, is in the beginning stages of researching polyculture with tomato plants.

From left to right: Erin Bailey, Huan Guo and Kenny Artivia set up the Willow Lake Student Farm table at the Kansas State Farmers Market on Oct. 25, 2017. (Archive Photo by Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

“I just have to say that I feel really fortunate to have this space to carry out what I think is really important research out here,” Martini said.

Beyond the educational aspect of the student farm, Martini said it also has a community focus that helps each person be successful in whatever they’re working on or researching.

“This is a place that offers support and is available for others to do important research that can contribute to the body of science that is coming out of Kansas State University,” Martini said.

Regan Hale, Willow Lake manager and graduate student in agronomy and software engineering, said she loves seeing students on the farm and hopes to see more hands on deck in the future.

“Most of our student involvement comes from the horticulture department, which is great, but I think there’s a lot of possibility out here for students of all disciplines of study and interests to engage with the student farm,” Hale said.

Jeremy Cowan, student farm faculty adviser and assistant professor in horticulture and natural resources, echoed that sentiment, saying anyone can participate at Willow Lake, and a good place to start for a novice would be the community volunteer days on select Saturdays.

“I think it’s really important for the students at K-State to know that, one, the student farm exists here, two, it’s not just for us ag geeks and nerds,” Cowan said. “It’s also for anybody that has an interest in where their food comes from or spending time outdoors with the plants and animals and that just wants to get more involved with the food system around K-State.”

For more information about how to get involved with Willow Lake, students can visit its website. To get a taste of what students are learning, pick up some produce grown at Willow Lake at the People’s Grocery Co-op and Deli on Fort Riley Boulevard in Manhattan or at a local farmers market.

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.