Book & Plow Farm Integrated into College
Issue   |   Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:24

Following a leadership transition of the college-affiliated Book & Plow Farm from founders Pete McLean and Tobin Porter-Brown to former assistant manager Maida Ives at the end of last semester, the farm has undergone some changes and has new plans for the future.

The changes and transition to “Book & Plow 2.0,” along with letters outlining the farm’s previous history and future goals by Tobin, Porter-Brown, Ives and Director of Sustainability Laura Draucker, were published on the college’s website.

Previously, the Book & Plow was a “farm in residence,” which means that McLean and Porter-Brown privately owned the business while leasing land from the college. They sold some of their produce to Valentine Dining Hall and were compensated for running programming and taking on work-study students. They also sold produce to customers unaffiliated with the college.

With this change in leadership and future direction, the farm is now owned by the college and will only produce food for Valentine.

“Our funding comes from the school, and we do an internal transfer of produce to Val,” Ives said.

She added that the farm will also continue its fall Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program for farm produce, which will be available “mostly to Amherst College faculty and staff, but also to community members.”

“Students are more than welcome to join [the CSA],” she added.

Despite these changes, however, some of the overarching goals and function of Book & Plow will remain the same, according to Ives.

“Having students come up to the farm to work, sending good, high quality produce to the CSA, offering up space on campus and partnering with other groups on campus to put on events — that’s all the same, and always has been the core mission of the farm,” Ives said.

Ives hopes to continue expanding the campus’ use of Book & Plow. The farm recently received a grant to build a solar-powered well in a new field. She added that she would also like to work with professors to conduct research related to sustainability at the farm.

“Sustainability is also, for me, not just about the environment of quality of life and balance,” Ives said. ”So one thing I try really hard to do is to make sure students enjoy their work ... [I] try to offer a community and bolster the experience of growing vegetables through our connections with each other and the area around us.”

“The transition was kind of shocking to hear at first, because Pete and Tobin had been such important people in the way I thought about Amherst and thought about Book & Plow,” said Annabelle Gary ’20, who worked at Book & Plow in the fall of 2016. “They really helped shape my experience, both in orientation week and then all of first semester.”

Porter-Brown is moving to Vermont, where he will work on a farm called “Pete’s Greens,” while McLean will stay in Amherst as a consultant. Ives has taken over as manager during the transitional phase, which she calls “Book & Plow 1.5,” and will serve in this role through 2017.

Book & Plow Farm was created in 2012 after students approached the administration about starting a campus farm. This semester, 22 students work at the farm.

Ives said that she hopes to retain six to eight student interns in the summer. She plans to take these students to other farms in the area in order to connect with the farming community and receive advice from other farmers.

“I personally came to this job because I love growing food, and I love to grow food with people who are learning that,” said Ives. “All the students who have come up to the farm show so much care and enthusiasm and they’re really the ones who make the farm, so I really personally am so open to taking student input about what Book & Plow looks like.”

Gary was introduced to the farm through her first-year orientation program and found a “really great passionate community.”
“It was a wonderful space apart from the rest of my life where I could focus on the earth, myself and the other people who I was working alongside of,” Gary added.

“I always tell people that the farm is about more than just farming and growing food,” said Lucas Zeller ’17, a student worker at Book & Plow. “It’s about bringing people together and creating a community that all of Amherst is a part of.”

Book & Plow is currently listed under the college’s facilities department, but it works closely with the Office of Environmental Sustainability, according to Ives.

Ives plans to host a beautification event at the farm in two weeks, where she hopes to receive informal input from students on their aspirations for the farm. At the event, students will be able to participate in activities such as painting a shipping container that the farm uses to store food.

The transitional phase is the Book & Plow’s “designing and dreaming stage,” Ives said.

“Obviously, time, resources and weather are all certainly factors in the reality of how we grow food, so there’s certainly limitations,” she said. “But we can dream big and see where we land from that.”