A Little Plot for Learning

The farm plot may be micro—spanning just one-fifth of an acre—but that doesn’t mean the vision of the people behind the UT Micro Farm is as well. On a recent Tuesday evening, volunteer student workers made their way through the thicket of vines and rainbow chard just as the sun settled on the western edge of the University of Texas campus. Here, participants learn to appreciate one special hour, and the impact—both local and global—one person and one small farm can make.

Not long ago, students Daniella Lewis, Juliet Laney and Margaret Wellik shared the idea that food is worth thinking about. Together, they sought funding from the university’s Green Fee Committee to start UT’s first student-run organic farm. (The Green Fee is a $5 per semester fee collected as part of the university’s tuition and transferred to the committee, who rewards collected funds to environmental service projects on campus.) Following the successful project pitch, the students broke ground in 2013 on a small patch of Blackland Prairie soil at 2204 Leona Street. 

The premise behind the farm is much more than simply growing one’s own supper, though. In fact, the students rarely take home the bounty. Instead, it’s sold to the UT Division of Housing and Food Service to help provide for other students. Whatever is left goes on the stands at the farm on Saturday mornings and on campus during the week. The rest is donated to a local charity. 

The founders of the farm, now graduated, believe that food and farming are broad and intricate topics that involve health and nutrition, traditions and culture, agriculture and technology and environmental and community concerns. Because of this, the UT Micro Farm strives to be a space where students of all disciplines are welcome to continue their education with their hands in the dirt. 

Micro Farm Development Director Dominique Vyborny is a business major. She joined the farm at the end of 2013 and has since applied concepts she’s learned in school to the farm. She’s currently working on the farm’s marketing plan as well as boosting public outreach endeavors. She says volunteers learn valuable lessons in critical thinking, research, public relations, communications, project development, environmental practices and business management, not to mention organic and sustainable agriculture techniques.  

The farm is currently testing various irrigation systems—including drip irrigation, ollas and wicking beds—and experimenting with growing different varieties of plants, such as golden berries, moon and star watermelons, red Russian kale, ginger and Armenian cucumbers. 

At the end of a workday, the students might not reap the benefits of consuming their sown edibles, but they leave with a sense of purpose and that they’ve provided value to their community. “On a primal level, there’s something about working out here as the sun sets that is so enjoyable and so connected to being present in, and a part of, the world,” Vyborny says. “It’s almost spiritual.” —Claire Cella

 

For more information, visit utmicrofarm.wordpress.com