Keiko Miwa Ross’ generosity supports renamed Student Farm expansion

Matthew Long
December 09, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In recognition of Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross’s support of Penn State’s land-grant mission to educate the Commonwealth, the Student Farm at University Park is being named the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm. Dr. Ross, a resident of State College and Penn State’s 2020 Philanthropist of the Year, has given $2 million toward the Student Farm that will further its mission of serving as a living laboratory for students, providing freshly grown produce to the campus community and showcasing innovative sustainable agricultural practices.

Leslie Pillen, associate director of farm and food systems at the Sustainability Institute, has managed the farm program since its creation. “We at the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm are incredibly grateful to Dr. Ross,” said Pillen. “Her generosity solidifies our current growth and transition from a pilot program of the past several years into a full-fledged asset for the University and local community for generations to come. Through her gift to Penn State, she ensures this student-led initiative not only endures, but flourishes.”

Ross lives at The Village at Penn State, a retirement community located near the Student Farm. She said she has often seen students at work planting seeds, harvesting vegetables and hosting tours and events.

The farm was originally formed and piloted in 2016 with support from the Sustainability Institute, Campus Housing and Food Services, the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Student Facilities Fee. Following the success of its four-year pilot, Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones approved funding to increase the farm from one to 3.6 acres. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the expansion is now underway, including the installation of three high tunnels last summer that will be able to grow thousands of pounds of produce.

According to the Student Farm’s 2016–2019 Impact Report on its pilot phase, the farm grew approximately 37,600 pounds of produce, earning $87,192 in sales. All the produce grown on the farm is cultivated without synthetic fertilizers and is sustainably transported and packaged, eliminating the use of nearly 1,900 cardboard boxes. In the same timeframe, 132 Penn State classes were involved with education through the farm and student leaders in the program hosted 237 community events, tours and workdays.

The farm has also provided internship and leadership opportunities for students, with 73 student internships for students in nine different colleges since the program began in 2016. 

Claire Byrnes, a junior studying anthropology and geography and director of campus outreach with the Student Farm Club, is looking forward to the ways Dr. Ross’s gift will enhance future farm initiatives.

“The ideas we’re considering, like in-ground hydroponics, solar-panel greenhouses and a drone, would allow us to keep innovating with new practices,” Byrnes said. “For us to keep pushing the boundary of what a farm can look like, having this technology is important. Using new technologies for education will make us a more attractive program for future students and create more opportunities for interdisciplinary work.”

Hayly Hoch, a 2017 alumna who assisted in developing the farm’s vision, credits her experience working at the farm with a professional skillset and network that has helped her in her current position as a food and horticulture coordinator with Jewish Residential Services. “The best part of my experience was being connected with people across campus that I never would have met because they were coming at this project from a totally different angle,” Hoch said. “It burst my bubble and helped me connect with so many people I never would have met.”

Paul Shrivastava, Penn State’s chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute, said, “Our donors have been transformative in allowing Penn State to serve its students, faculty, staff, alumni, stakeholders and community members. They have provided us with the resources and tools to foster innovation, collaboration and resilience at all campuses. Dr. Ross’s contribution will vastly expand the Student Farm’s capabilities in granting students practical experience, lifelong skills and engagement with the community. We at the Sustainability Institute thank her for her generosity, as it gives us hope amidst these uncertain times.”

Ross’s philanthropy will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

  • Community volunteers working at the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm

    Members of The Village at Penn State retirement community volunteer to pick vegetables at the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • An intern tends plants in one of the newly constructed high tunnels at the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm

    An intern tends to plants in one of the newly constructed high tunnels at the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm, which will allow the farm to increase significantly its food production.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated December 10, 2020