Over the past year, I have come to call Duke Campus Farm (DCF), a one-acre working farm in Duke Forest, my second home. Although life as a busy graduate student doesn't always allow for extracurriculars, sometimes those extracurriculars are the key to keeping sane. Since last Sunday was one of the last community workdays of 2015, I want to take the time to reflect on how DCF has helped me grow (pun intended) as both a Durham community member and as a scientist.
Duke Campus Farm developed from a student project in 2010. Since groundbreaking, the farm has grown, both in terms of production capabilities and commitment to promoting sustainable food systems. In 2014, the farm staff, student work crew, and over 800 volunteers helped cultivate hundreds of pounds of produce sold to Duke Dining Services and to community members through Community Supported Agriculture. Aligned with DCF's mission, the farm not only serves as a place of production, but facilitates conversations about food sustainability through course collaborations and community projects.
Last January, I drove the fifteen minutes from campus to meet both the farm manager and fellow for an interview to work as a graduate student intern. It was a chilly afternoon, and I remember feeling very nervous about convincing my interviewers (and myself) that I had previous experiences that would make me a suitable candidate. Sure, I had worked at University of Pittsburgh's Plant to Plate Urban Garden and spent a large part of my college years working with strawberries in a greenhouse setting, but I had very little farming skills. Looking back one year later, the interviewers and the rest of the farm crew are now dear friends, how could I have been so nervous? Nevertheless, working at DCF has enabled me to grow intellectually, as we spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of organic farming, and spiritually, because working with the earth provides perspective that I don't see from my office window .
You might be wondering why I am writing about a farm in my research blog. A major theme of my research program tries to understand how climate change might (or is) affecting plants and their pollinators. When thinking about farming, plant-pollinator interactions are extremely important for crop production. To make sure pollination is sufficient for the crops at DCF, the crew plants perennial flowers to attract native pollinators and also cares for resident honeybees. As one of my field sites is only ten minutes down the road from DCF, I am working with native perennial plants in the area. During conversations with the farm crew, we came up with an idea that would combine my research and farming interests to benefit the space. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated farm staff and student crew, a native plant pollinator garden is currently under construction. Using information from North Carolina Native Plant Society, we created a plan to include species that will bloom from March until September. This way, there will always be some attraction to the perimeter of the farm for native pollinators. We will hold a workshop in the spring with students from a local charter school to help make the finishing touches. Although most of the plants won't flower this coming summer, we hope they will be in full bloom in 2017.
About this blog:
I created this blog as part of the Phipps Botany in Action Program, 2015 - 2017