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Students dig into sustainable farming at Vermont college

By Lisa Rathke, The Associated Press

Article from USA Today

Anastasia Gazynski, 20, right, a Green Mountain College senior, leads oxen Bill and Lou, as production manager Lisa Veniscofsky, 25, looks on while they head out to work in the field on the campus farm in Poultney, Vt.By Alden Pellett, APAnastasia Gazynski, 20, right, a Green Mountain College senior, leads oxen Bill and Lou, as production manager Lisa Veniscofsky, 25, looks on while they head out to work in the field on the campus farm in Poultney, Vt.
POULTNEY, Vt. — Devin Lyons typically starts his days this summer cooking breakfast with fresh eggs from the farm's chicken coop. Then, depending on the weather, he and a dozen other college students might cut hay in the field using a team of oxen, turn compost or weed vegetable beds.

While other college students are in stuffy classrooms, about a dozen are earning credit tending a Vermont farm. For 13 weeks, 12 credits and about $12,500, the Green Mountain College students plow fields with oxen or horses, milk cows, weed crops and grow and make their own food, part of an intensive course in sustainable agriculture using the least amount of fossil fuels.

"Lots of schools study sustainable agriculture but I don't think any of them put it into practice," said spokesman Kevin Coburn.

There are no tractors on the 22 acres next to the brick campus of the small liberal arts college on the edge of the town — just two teams of oxen, and goats, pigs, two cows, and chickens.

Students sleep in tents on the field's edge, next to a river. They spend about six hours a week in classes in the old farmhouse, learning theory on organic crop and animal management; management of farm systems; development of agricultural technologies with a focus on human and animal power; and the social and cultural importance of regional food. The rest of the time they're out in the field, or doing homework and working on research projects.

"So they're actually seeing the applications firsthand," said Kenneth Mulder, manager of the college's Cerridwen Farm, who runs the summer program.

College farming is growing. According to the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, more than 80 schools now have hands-on and classroom-based farm programs. Many of them are organic vegetable farms, but students don't necessarily earn as many credits as Green Mountain College students do, nor do they get to work with teams of oxen. Sterling College, also in Vermont, has a similar program.

"It's traditionally been one of the leaders in environmental studies and it is because they put their studies where their mouth is in really getting students out and doing and practicing the sort of environmentally enlightened work that some talk about in class," said Roland King, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

For her research project, Cassie Callahan, 18, Conway, N.H., wants to water plants with gray water collected from the farm's solar shower, attached to the greenhouse. But she's not sure yet if the soap — even biodegradable soap — will harm the plants if it's not diluted.

Her real love is working with draft horses. She jumps at the chance every time and even has a new tattoo of a team of horses on her shin. In her hometown, she had a job driving horse-drawn sleighs and wagons in her hometown and now has learned the animals can be used for more than tourism.

She hopes to be a farmer, supporting herself and selling a little on the side.

"You know people have jobs to make money to feed themselves and cloth themselves but I'd much rather have my job be to feed and cloth myself," she said.

Green Mountain College hopes to turn out farmers and has several alumni running farms nearby. Other students are interested in food-related fields — whether it's organizing nonprofits, working on policy or overseas development work.

Lyons, 19, doesn't know if he'll farm but so far he's learned a lot.

Growing up in suburban Jefferson, N.J., he said he didn't know much about where his food came from and was never exposed to organic farms.

"Like I never really got the connection between the chicken on my plate — and it was like a dead chicken that was killed — like I just never really thought about it," he said.


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