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Farmers’ Club and new Gerstenzang farm are ready for new school year

In spring of 2015, the Brandeis Farmers’ Club established a farm on the roof of the Gerstenzang Science Library. The farm has flourished over the summer, and the club has several plans for the upcoming semester.

The farm began as a final project in Prof. Laura Goldin’s (AMST/ENV/HSSP) class Greening the Ivory Tower, but students went further and applied for $30,000 through the Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF) to build the rooftop farm. Students founded the Farmers’ Club and organized construction of the farm in the final weeks of the spring 2015 semester and hosted one farmers’ market. Ten vendors sold goods and student groups performed at the market, drawing over 500 students, according to a Brandeis Hoot article from April.

In an email to The Hoot, Goldin expressed that she is pleased to watch her students take the farm project beyond the classroom, writing, “I helped to guide them in working through the difficult early stages, and can now happily cheer them on and mentor if needed.”

As The Hoot reported in March, the Farmers’ Club constructed raised-beds out of milk crates. They employed a drip-irrigation system to sustain the flowers, fruits and vegetables planted on the rooftop. Over the summer, volunteers maintained the farm, which continued to grow.

Jay Feinstein ’17 and Allison Marill ’17, two co-founders of the farm, discussed the farm and the Farmers’ Club’s plans for the upcoming year with The Hoot.

“The farm transforms a vast, underutilized space and improves student access to healthy, local food,” Marill said. A formerly empty rooftop is now home to a farm, allowing students to grow fresh produce in the middle of their college campus, which resides in a relatively urban area. Furthermore, Marill hopes the farm will “offset the greenhouse gases and fertilizers used in the cultivation and transportation of our food.” Marill also wants the farm to spark valuable discussion among students and encourage them to continue eating locally in the future. She explained the farm is “community space” that allows students to learn about sustainable agriculture.

Through the hard work of the Farmers’ Club E-board and over 100 volunteers, the farm sprung up in April. Over the summer, the Farmers’ Club used a portion of their grant to contract Green City Growers, a local company that assists with urban agriculture projects. They led weekly farm hours during which volunteers helped plant, weed and harvest. Brandeis students on campus for the summer and highs school students participating in Brandeis summer programs volunteered with Green City Growers. This summer, the Farmers’ Club also began a community-supported agriculture (CSA) Program, where one can purchase a share and receive produce from the farm each week. Full shares are $400 for the year, and half shares are $200.

When the school year begins, the club will continue farm volunteer sessions on Fridays, allowing students to engage personally with the farm. “I have found it incredible to see the vegetables grow, but it’s not just me. It’s been even more incredible to see the positive responses we have received from the Brandeis Community.” club president Feinstein said.

The Farmers’ Club also plans to operate two farmers’ markets in October and to host events such as a pumpkin carving and educational “Picnics with a Purpose.” The club will continue the CSA program as well as donate to organizations such as Grandma’s Pantry, Jewish Family & Children’s Service and local low-income residents. They will also offer some produce to volunteers.

Feinstein hopes the farm will encourage everyone to,“think more carefully about the food they eat and the processes that go into growing it. There is no reason to ship produce across the country when it can be grown in our backyards and rooftops.” Feinstein stresses that the farm encourages students, staff and faculty to work together, toward the “common cause” of a thriving, sustainable farm.

Goldin believes the farm is beautiful space and a way to grow food for the campus community and those in need. She notes that the farm “helps capture rainwater and prevent runoff, reduces CO2 and offers excellent opportunities for building community, teaching, physical activity and simply beauty and delight.”

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