Extension of COLSA's Farm to You NH program has successful debut summer

Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Student holding peppers in a field

Ella Lukacz '25 displays a handful of peppers grown as part of COLSA's Farm to You NH program.

For years, UNH students in the Farm to You NH program – a two-semester course that allows students to gain first-hand experience in sustainable agriculture – have helped grow a variety of fruits and vegetables that have been served in the university’s dining halls. This year, thanks to a new initiative as part of the program, participants were also able to put food directly on tables outside the university while making a difference for members of neighboring communities.

This summer the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) program partnered with the families involved in the marriage and family studies master’s degree course offered in the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) to launch a community supported agriculture (CSA) pilot, providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost to the participating families.

Students taking part coordinated and executed all aspects of the 10-week CSA under the guidance of Susan Soucy, horticultural program coordinator, planning the kinds of produce that would be planted, managing the growth and making sure items were delivered at peak freshness to the families taking part.

“I thought it was really unique what we were doing, because most CSAs are done for profit through farms, but this was at no cost to the families involved,” Gavin Scoon ’23, who took part in the course, says. “It just felt really good to be a part of that, knowing we were providing them with fresh, local produce and taking a chunk out of their grocery bill every week.”

Student tending to tomato plants
Eliza McKerrow tends to tomato plants.

The cross-college collaboration, thought of and initiated by marriage and family therapy graduate student Kayla Doyle and former SAFS Lectuter Andrew Ogden, proved to be a success in its debut summer. Ten families involved in the marriage and family studies program – families that essentially serve as clients to the master’s students training to become counselors – were the participants in the CSA, receiving a wide variety of produce over the course of 10 weeks.

The students were able to grow and provide vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash and radishes, among others, and were also able to work with a couple of researchers at UNH to gain access to strawberries and blueberries, as well, Soucy says.

All of the vegetables were grown at the Farm to You NH location across from the Fairchild Dairy Center, where students in the program manage two high tunnels they can grow in year-round, as well as a field directly adjacent where items are grown during the summer.

“I think its hugely important to be connected to projects like these, stepping beyond the university and working with the community,” says Gretchen Bahmueller ’24. “It gives us hands-on experience and an understanding of how we can apply the skills we learned in the classroom to the real world. It’s really powerful to be a part of a project like this, making a positive impact on people’s lives.”

Students played critical roles in all parts of the process, from planning to planting and harvesting for the CSA. Bahmueller was responsible for figuring out a crop planning guide – including when to harvest which items and what would go into the CSA boxes for each week – and also created a poster with information about storing the produce and how to prepare it for the families to use as reference.

Scoon was grateful for the wide variety of ways he was able to get involved, from helping seed trays to transplanting produce into the high tunnels and fields to taking care of the crops throughout their life cycles, through cultivation, pruning, irrigation and fertilization.

“The students were excited to get involved in something unique on campus and to really see the direct impact that growing food can have on the community,” Soucy says. “They were all really happy to help with this project, and I’m hoping in the future we can maybe do a larger program so we can have even more student involvement.”

"The students were excited to get involved in something unique on campus and to really see the direct impact that growing food can have on the community."

The CSA turned out to be a natural extension of the Farm to You NH program, which is comprised of the sustainable agriculture and food systems course called Food Production Field Experience (SAFS 679/680) that spans two semesters. The spring semester of the course focuses more on production, while the fall semester focuses on business management and what it takes to run a farm. All of it is very hands-on, Soucy says, with students working in the high tunnels and fields as part of their classwork.

Food from the Farm to You NH program goes to several locations, but the majority of it goes to UNH Dining. According to a UNH Dining blog entry, the program collaborates with the dining halls, the Dairy Bar and Conferences and Catering in order to “serve fresh, sustainable menu items.”

Soucy – a UNH grad who enrolled as a student in the first-ever offering of the food production course 10 years ago – notes that the program has delivered more than 6,000 pounds of food already this year.

The impact is evident beyond the contribution to campus dining and the immediate hands-on work students receive. After graduating last spring, Scoon, for instance, parlayed the knowledge and experience he gained into a role as the horticulture manager at Dumont Farms in Loudon.

“It absolutely prepared me for what I am doing now,” Scoon says of the program. “It gave me a great base of knowledge. Getting out into the field is completely different than just learning about it in the classroom.”

Given the success of the initial CSA, Soucy is hopeful that many more students will have the opportunity to gain such experience as the program continues to develop.

“I think it went even better than we expected,” Soucy says of the inaugural go-round. “We got a lot of really great feedback from the families, and in general people were really excited and blown away by all the different kinds of produce we were able to give to them. I think with the right infrastructure and the right people behind it, it could definitely continue to grow.”

Alexandra Hatch | COLSA/NH Agricultural Experiment Station | Alexandra.Hatch@unh.edu