New students pitching in at Yale Divinity School farm; plans sprout for continued growth

By Caitie Scott ’13 M.Div.
A new crop of students has been on the Yale Divinity School campus for just a few weeks, but it has not taken long for them to learn about the YDS Farm and to pitch in as volunteers alongside returning students in 2010-11.

Div FarmThe first work party of the new academic year took place on Sept. 10,  giving students a chance to play in the dirt at the end of the first full week of classes.  The farm garden, established in June 2009 and located near the student resident halls, possessed a surprising array of vegetables and plants in mid-September, including a large orange gourd that might easily win a state fair’s prize for size and weight.

Each week students will sign up for different farm maintenance tasks, taking on different roles and contributing to the farm’s mission to foster community and raise up important awareness on issues of energy use, sustainable food sources, and ecological justice. The farm is a resource that offers a community of both longtime and newly inaugurated gardeners possessing a range of knowledge and experience.

New volunteers were not shy about digging right in at the work party, and as conversations about classes flourished between trips to the compost pile, a new year of farming began in the ongoing effort to fuse spiritual work in the classroom with the spiritual work outside of it.  In what was the first order of business, a little harvesting, every interested gardener came away with bags brimming with spicy radishes, carrots, bell peppers, greens and plenty of tomatoes.

Rebecca Floyd, a first-year M.Div. student, is not only interested in learning about the ins and outs of gardening on a personal level but feels that cultivating attitudes and practices of stewardship for the earth are important aspects to incorporate into her own ministry. She planned to make herself a salad with the greens she gathered with others working in the shadows of Fisher Hall, which is adorned with an array of photovoltaic panels that provide solar energy to the dormitory.

Kai Hoffman-Krull, a first-year M.A.R. student, has assumed the mantle of YDS Farm coordinator. Rallying a band of enthusiastic farm hands is only one part of Hoffman-Krull’s vision to expand the reach of the farm into the life of the community at YDS.

What: Yale Divinity Farm is a collaboration between the Urban Resources Initiative and Yale Divinity School.

Who: YDS administrators teamed up with an invincible volunteer corps to build and cultivate the organic farm.

Where: On the Yale Divinity campus, near the dorms.

Why: Because environmental stewardship is an act of faith. And because we love good food, grown well.

 “I have some projects and visions for the farm that I am extremely excited about,” Hoffman-Krull reported, “visions such as building year-long greenhouses, doing a large amendment program for the soil, and developing a cheap CSA (community supported agriculture) program for students. “  Over the past two decades, CSAs have become a popular way of buying local, seasonal food directly from a farm. Typically, consumers purchase a membership and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

The Yale Divinity farm was established in June 2009 after Andrew Barnett ‘12 M.Div., Olivia Hillmer ’11 M.A.R. and other interested Divinity School students approached Dean Harold Attridge with their idea and in turn received funding from the dean, Dean of Students Dale Peterson, the Yale Earthcare Committee, the YDS student council, and outside sources such as the Urban Resources Initiative, a community not-for-profit that works in conjunction with the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Barnett looks back humorously at the very first time he and other volunteers went to break ground on Divinity school property. After the bulldozers had overturned the earth and made a gaping hole a few yards from campus housing, he recalls thinking, “What did we just do?” Yet the chaos of dirt became neat rows of flourishing veggies and plants as students tended the garden even as the winter snows set in. Underlying the short-term goal of actually getting things to grow in the rocky soil was the vision of equipping religious leaders with the knowledge and practices of conservation—a gift students hope to bring to their future work in communities and parishes.

The Farm continues to receive support from the Divinity School, but organizers hope additional fundraising efforts will pave the way for a permanent greenhouse and facilitate soil enrichment projects.  At the same time, the farm will carry on its traditional educational workshops aimed at honing basic gardening skills.

With the fresh enthusiasm of first-year students and the continuing passion of the Farm’s caretakers and founders, the farm plots appear to be in no danger of neglect.  After such a rich first harvest the big question was an appropriate one for the season: what can you do with a twenty-pound pumpkin?