It takes a village to raise a farm

Olivia Hort
March 27, 2017

The Student Farm at Penn State is celebrating a successful first year on their one-acre site at Fox Hollow and Big Hollow Roads. The farm grew over 10,000 pounds of produce this year, feeding both students and community members.

“The establishment of the Student Farm has been a Penn State-wide effort. Many people have gone above and beyond to get us up and running,” said Leslie Pillen, program manager and adviser to the Student Farm Club.

The Penn State community supported the farm’s mission of improving local food access, enhancing food systems education and cultivating a sense of community. For several years, campus and community stakeholders envisioned creating a place where students, faculty, staff and community members could meet to learn, collaborate and use their skills to solve sustainability challenges across the food system.

That vision started to become a reality in 2013 when a grant from the Sustainability Institute spurred the planning process. With the support of and dedication from Sustainability Institute Director Denice Wardrop, the seed of an idea that would grow into the Sustainable Food Systems Program and Student Farm was planted.

Support soon came from others when Penn State’s student government, University Park Undergraduate Association, unanimously passed legislation to establish the farm in March 2015. The Facilities Fee Advisory Committee (FFAC) then allocated funding to cover startup expenses during the three-year pilot, from 2016-18, with significant support and guidance from Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims.

“Without the support and commitment from the campus community, the Student Farm would not be the growing and thriving program it is today,” said Pillen. “The initial investment from the Sustainability Institute, and then operations funding from FFAC were crucial for enabling the vision to become reality.”

With land committed by the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) and startup funding secured, the program started to make plans for the site. Both Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the college’s dean, Richard Roush, were key resources for the Student Farm as they provided expertise and volunteers to fulfill the site’s initial infrastructure needs. Farm Services from the College of Agricultural Sciences spread Penn State compost on the site and staff from the Rock Springs research farm tilled the organic material into the ground. OPP installed water lines and deer fencing, and assisted in the siting of sheds designed and built by College of Arts and Architecture undergraduate students.

The Student Farm was in full swing by May of 2016, and interns were busy maintaining production. Interns, club members and volunteers all tended to the site and harvested the crops, with more than 150 volunteers contributing over 300 hours to farm maintenance. 

inspecting greenhouse plants

Club leaders, Hayly Hoch, Nick Michalisin, and Alyssa Gurklis smile in the greenhouses while inspecting plant for the Student Farm Club plant sale. The Student Farm Club will host a plant sale on April 28, 2017. Students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to purchase vegetable and herb plants. All proceeds will benefit the Student Farm at Penn State.

IMAGE: Penn State

During harvest season, Penn State’s Housing and Food Services (HFS) supported the farm by purchasing some of the 10,330 pounds of produce grown to serve in the on-campus dining commons and restaurants. Produce was also purchased by Campus Supported Agriculture (CSA) program members, and 1,000 pounds of produce was donated to community organizations throughout 2016. Jim Richard, director of Residential Dining, along with the many staff and chefs at HFS, have been key supporters of the farm’s mission of providing sustainable food to students.

Members of Student Farm Club were featured guests of Dean Richard Roush at the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Scholarship Award Banquet event in fall 2016. Produce from the farm was incorporated into over 300 meals for the banquet, and 18 Student Farm Club members hosted a tour of the farm site for award banquet guests.

Pillen said the donor recognition tour stands out as a memorable moment in 2016, because students had the opportunity to show guests the diversity of experiences afforded to them through the Student Farm.

As Pillen reflects on the organization’s first year, she said she witnessed firsthand how the commitment, support and hard work of many people helped the Student Farm succeed.

“The Student Farm is proof that when the Penn State community comes together to accomplish a goal, anything is possible.”

To learn more, visit the program’s website at

  • inspecting pepper plants

    Volunteers inspect the farm's pepper plants.

    IMAGE: Leslie Pillen
  • tilling plant beds

    Summer intern Michael Cahill learns to use the tiller, a much needed relief, after spending weeks building the first set of plant beds by hand. The food grown by the Student Farm is used for catering of on-campus events and served in the dining commons. On April 18, 2017 the Student Farm Club will host “a dinner and a movie” feature student farm products in Redifer Dining Commons. They will... Read more ›

    IMAGE: Michael Cahill
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Last Updated September 20, 2019