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Hampshire Farm Center a ‘Field of Learning’

(August 5, 2011) —Hampshire College’s Farm Center is one of 15 influential student farms in North America featured in a new book that explores the roots of the rapidly expanding student farm movement.

Pioneering educators directly involved in founding and management of the influential college farms were invited to contribute essays, including Hampshire Professor Emeritus Ray Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger.

Radio interview with Ray Coppinger discussing the history of the Farm Center >>

Fields of Learning
Fields of Learning: The Student Farm Movement in North America is edited by Laura Sayre and Sean Clark, and published by the University Press of Kentucky. Sayre and Clark investigate student farming not only through the lens of sustainability but also as an opportunity for experiential learning, with the capability of teaching valuable lessons about the global market, biology, engineering, anthropology, and more.

That is certainly true for the Hampshire Farm Center, where academic work crosses the curriculum. The farm attracts students and professors pursuing projects and research related to sustainable agriculture, food science, animal behavior, land-use history, food and justice, art, economics, psychology, and a range of other interdisciplinary topics.

The Coppingers’ essay, “The Agricultural Liberal Arts,” summarizes the history of Hampshire’s Farm Center. Biologist Ray Coppinger was a founding faculty member when Hampshire opened in 1970, situated on 800 acres of former farmland and designed to be an “experimenting” college.

Faculty sought new, creative ways to teach science within the liberal arts. In the context of mid-1970s international scholarship related to nutrition and education came the recognition that all the academic disciplines could be involved in studies of the world’s food and water. The Coppingers describe this recognition of the potential for blending pedagogy and agriculture as “an exciting prospect for the work of a liberal arts college.”

The Coppingers’ chapter is accompanied by essays by Hampshire graduates sharing memories and reflections about their own work at the Farm Center as students:

Marada Cook 03S
, director of Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative, remembers being impressed by the “perfect” broccoli grown on the farm. In “Good Soil,” she writes, “When the admissions staff asked, ‘Why do you want to come to Hampshire?’ I told them I wanted to learn the scientific reasons we should link soil health to the highest of mankind’s achievements on earth. The broccoli, though, loomed large in my mind—I had to learn to grow broccoli like that.”

“It’s hard not to be fascinated on a farm,” writes Nancy Hirshberg 82F, now vice president of natural resources at Stonyfield Yogurt. “Students gain a greater appreciation of the world and how they are connected to it."

“The farm provided me—an idea-oriented city kid—with a controlled uncertainty and rare exposure to tangibility,” says Liska Clemence Chan 88F, today the chair of the department of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. “It’s the place where a kid’s idealism merges with dirt, bumps, scrapes, stink, and joy.”

Gary Hirshberg 72F, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, provides one of the book’s blurbs: “The opportunity to spend time learning on campus farms is not just a good idea—it should be mandatory.”

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