Rethinking the CC Farm

By Abby Williams

The Colorado College student farm is a 1.5-acre plot of land tucked behind the Stewart House, sandwiched between Wood Avenue and the Tiger Trail. Full disclaimer: I love this space. It’s home to a wildly overgrown patch of herbs and unruly wildflowers, baby deer, bee boxes, a garden shed full of Wendell Berry books and saved seeds, and a few times I have seen an exceptionally large garter snake—the atmosphere is almost Edenic.

Photo courtesy of Catalyst Archives

The CC farm was started in 2014 by a group of students with the vision of “serv[ing] the Colorado Springs community by providing access to fresh, local, organic food both on campus and off”, (CC student farm Facebook page). The summers of 2015 to 2018, the farm was maintained by CC student farm interns (I was an intern in 2017). At one point, it was functional, producing enough food to host a vegetable stand at South Hall for students and to sell at the Colorado Springs farmer’s market. However, maintaining a productive farm on the Colorado Front Range is challenging. By the time I became an intern, the soil was tired, sandy, and stripped of the necessary nitrogen, the weeds were deeply rooted and unrelenting, and the bees had left their boxes. Perhaps most frustrating, the quickly growing baby deer ate almost all the produce — and it’s very difficult to be mad at baby deer.

We didn’t grow enough to regularly supply Bon Appetit, which proved problematic because they funded our internship. They didn’t need the extra farm vegetables, but they like to advertise ultra-local produce. So, we had to renegotiate.

We tried to amend and replenish the soil, rework the space into a permaculture model, get better deer repellent, utilize more of the open space, and weed more — but, to be honest, three summer interns could not provide enough person-power or time to make it into what it once was. The job was fun and beautiful but also frustrating and incredibly tiring. I wasn’t present for the next summer’s CC farm season, but I understand the 2018 interns faced a similar predicament.

This past summer, there were no summer interns. The grass is waist-high and the beds are overgrown—the CC Student Farm link on the CC Sustainability webpage now reads, “coming soon.” But the space is still beautiful and full of potential! It is now just a wilder, more untamed version of its past self. It is in its Britney 2008 phase, but I have faith it can bounce back.

My suggestion is to give the space to the community. In the hands of community members, there would be no student intern turnover and burnout, and the farm would not lapse into overgrowth between summers. Maybe Colorado Springs Food Rescue could effectively use the space in their expansion. Or maybe there is a community member who is passionate about urban farming who would want to take on the project. Either of these options would be better than the land idling in the hands of Colorado College. The produce could go to food banks, schools, or farm-shares — not to the advertising campaign of Bon Appetit.

This solution points to a larger conversation about Colorado College engagement with the Colorado Springs community — a subject that can be difficult. Colorado College has a tendency to procure Colorado Springs land/institutions, then re-invite the community back to participate. Examples of recent CC acquisitions include the houses south of Dale Street, the Fine Arts Center, and tragically, the Wooglin’s block for hockey rink purposes. While I don’t think this is always a “bad” thing, I do think it creates an institutional “top-down” power dynamic, where CC delineates how the community can engage in their spaces. This did not work for the CC farm — there was not enough sustained CC student engagement and not enough agency for Colorado Springs community members to engage effectively.

However, if the paradigm were flipped and the community were to be in control of the farm — or if it were turned over to a community organization such as Colorado Springs Food Rescue — CC students could still choose to participate as members of the community alongside other Colorado Springs residents. This would shift focus away from CC student exceptionalism and rebalance the farm into a truly collaborative and community-based space.

Photo courtesy of Catalyst Archives

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