Thursday, March 5, 2009

Taking The Road Less Travelled

By Sarah Bobertz

Somewhere on South Campus, there is a garden. It went mostly unnoticed by students, until Alex Johnson (’09) wrote a proposal last fall to institutionalize the garden and take advantage of a great opportunity to bring sustainability home to Lewis & Clark. The dream? An organic, sustainable farm project that could employ work-study students and give the Lewis & Clark community an amazing resource: truly local produce. The produce grown on the farm could supply produce to students, professors and neighbors in the Lewis & Clark community.

“This is about making the best use of our resources,” said Johnson, whose advocacy for this project has pushed it closer to reality than ever before. A Lewis & Clark farm would be the first college farm in Portland. The farm would also be a part of the growing CSA community. CSA stands for Community-Sustained Agriculture, and there are about a dozen member farms in the Portland area. It is a trend in local, sustainable agriculture, bringing local produce to a community level.

Lewis & Clark is the perfect place for a community farm. Its students are passionate about organic, local food and outdoor activities of any variety. The chance to learn about sustainable agriculture is a great educational opportunity, equal to any that could be found in a classroom, and there is a lot of interest and support on campus for the idea.

“The project grew really quickly and interest grew really quickly and before I knew it, it was like a wildfire,” said Johnson. Student, faculty, and staff support for a project proposal is not enough on its own to make projects a reality. Funding problems put the farm proposal on the proverbial back burner, presumably to be revisited in better economic times. After much budget trimming, operating costs for the first year of the farm are estimated to be about $15,000, and the profits from the first year would cover the operating budget for subsequent years. However, funding is not currently available from any Lewis & Clark source. Discretionary budgets of various departments have been cut, and there is no ASLC avenue to fund this type of project. Like with so many environmental initiatives, cash flow problems ultimately shelved the proposal.

The moral of the story is one of missed opportunity. The path to sustainability is about taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves to us, no matter what the cost. Energy efficient and environmentally friendly options are most often those that cost the most or are the least convenient in our current system. Organic produce is more expensive than non-organic, solar and wind energy is more expensive than oil and coal, and toxic materials are cheaper than biodegradable options

The opportunity for Lewis & Clark to run its own organic, sustainable farm is expensive, yes, but it is ultimately the best use of campus resources. Lewis & Clark’s commitment to organic, local food has earned the school notoriety among private liberal arts colleges. The chance to launch the first college farm in Portland, maintained by its own students, would create opportunities for both education and experience in sustainable agriculture, an increasingly important industry in the 21st century. Like solar power and biodegradable chemicals, a campus farm is not the easiest option to pursue, but it is the best one in our search for sustainability.  

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