On the roof of the Gerstenzang Science Library, you will see rows and rows of fresh produce growing from rich organic soil. The Brandeis Community Farm, formerly known as the Farmer’s Club, is run by students at Brandeis.
Benée Hershon ’20, president of the Brandeis Community Farm, is a junior majoring in environmental studies and minoring in legal studies and Social Justice and Social Policy (SJSP).
The farm was created in 2014 with the help of a grant from the Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF). The farm was awarded around $40,000 and a local organization called Green City Growers was employed to help set up the farm. With the farm created, came the need for a club to manage and run the farm, thus the Farmer’s Club was formed.
Hershon explained that over time, the E-board is hoping to rebrand its name to the Brandeis Community Farm, as one of its focuses this semester is creating a close community of people passionate about agriculture and sustainability. Hershon has been involved with the farm since the beginning of her sophomore year, and has taken on many roles including treasurer and farm manager before becoming the president.
Another goal for the farm this year is to find funding in new ways. The farm’s biggest source of income is based on community-supported agriculture (CSA), in which different members of the Brandeis community pay a certain amount to collect produce over the summer. “Seeds are expensive, you’d be surprised … it really adds up,” Hershon said, mentioning that seeds could cost more than $800. The farm also receives funding from the Student Union.
The farm hopes to be a resource to students who may be struggling to afford meals. “There’s a lot of people on campus who don’t know where they’re getting their next meal. A lot of people at Brandeis don’t think about that … with Brandeis being such an expensive school there are a lot of people who can’t buy the more expensive meal plans, so there’s a shift to focusing on that need in the campus community itself,” said Hershon.
In past years, the farm has donated to the Waltham community, but their new goal is to also help the Brandeis community. “We want people to recognize that they can come to the club and get produce if they can’t afford food on campus,” said Hershon.
Some ways that Hershon and the E-board hope to achieve this is through their volunteering. Their volunteer hours are Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students who volunteer at the farm can pick up produce to take home with them. She hopes that in the future they can extend that model to where people can drop in anytime and pick up food that they need. They also hope to extend their volunteering to members of the Waltham community as well as Brandeis, to teach more people agricultural skills. She emphasized that they want the farm to be a comfortable environment for students, graduate students and professors alike.
The farm has faced a few challenges this semester, including the return of students from the summer. A lot of damage was done to the farm while students were away, so a big project of the volunteers is to help with weeding. Also, potentially next summer the roof of Gerstenzang will need to be redone, meaning that the farm will have to be placed in storage and then re-established once the roof is finished. Hershon said that the farm will not be physically present for a full year, but they plan to volunteer at local farms during that time.
Hershon’s experience in agriculture started at Brandeis after taking “Food and Farming in America” with Professor Brian Donahue. “I never really thought about where my food came from, I didn’t think about how many people don’t have fresh, healthy food on the table,” said Hershon of the way the class changed her perspective. “Now I know a lot about farming… it goes to show you that anyone at Brandeis can gain these skills.”
“When you learn a skill like [farming,] it is a really empowering thing. I know where my food comes from, and I can grow my own food. If every person had those skills, it would be amazing,” Hershon said.
Hershon isn’t sure of her career path yet, but she knows that farming will certainly have a role, and that she would like to be involved in agriculture outside of college. For her, farming and sustainability is all about “empowerment and empowering different communities. We try to make the farm as sustainable as possible.” For example, the farm uses a drip irrigation system to try to use minimal water, organic compost and seeds, and they also bring their compost to Lemberg so that it can be used in their garden. In many ways, Hershon hopes the farm will be a welcoming community and resource that can help change the way Brandeis students think about food and sustainability.