Soil Stewards Focuses on Sustainability
The Soil Stewards Farm transports you momentarily to a simpler time. A time when life revolved around agriculture and was free of modern distractions. It’s an oasis of green tufts in planted rows nestled in the rolling, golden hills of the Palouse. Inhaling, the smell of nutrient-rich, wet earth fills your lungs. If you close your eyes, you might forget where you are altogether.
The Palouse is well known for its endless rolling hills of wheat, but also for the University of Idaho. U of I has modernized the original land grant mission of establishing agricultural research facilities to include experimenting with sustainability practices. Through the efforts of U of I’s Sustainability Center (UISC) and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), U of I is a step closer to its goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.
Partnering for Sustainability
The Soil Stewards Farm is part of the U of I Department of Soil and Water Systems and offers students the opportunity to learn about sustainable farming practices through hands-on work and farm management experience.
“Working on the farm has helped students learn how to eat a more healthful diet. Other times, students who volunteer at the farm are short on cash and the vegetables they take home helps them stay fed, reducing food insecurity,” said Alison Detjens, Soil Stewards Farm faculty advisor. “I have found that the farm provides a safe space for students to contribute to the greater good.”
A partnership between the Soil Stewards Farm and UISC has resulted in compost material making its way to the farm. The Farm to Food composting program was developed in response to a 2009 study by UISC, CALS and Vandals Dining that found over 70% of trash waste could be recycled or composted. The program utilizes compost material that UISC has gathered from dining halls on campus. Students are able to deposit food waste in designated green waste bins in the Hub and Idaho Student Union Building and UISC’s compost technician distributes compost to the farm to improve soil health.
UISC also organizes and manages several volunteer events for students at the farm every year. Students are able to join the Soil Stewards Farm club and take an active, committed role in sustaining the farm. The farm embodies UISC’s mission of supporting and promoting sustainability practices across campus.
“Students should come out to the farm because there is nothing more satisfying than growing your own food,” Detjens said. “The feeling of self-sufficiency students gain from understanding the basics to food production goes a long way in building confidence in other areas of life.”
A Place for Students
Through her organic gardening practicum, Detjens provides the opportunity for any student at U of I to gain hands-on skills from working at the farm and apply them to management practices for class credit. In exchange for working, students are able to take home fresh vegetables from the farm through a work-trade program.
“Current U of I students will be Idaho’s leaders in the coming years,” said Kayla Bordelon, director of student engagement at UISC. “I’m motivated to help them develop an understanding of the threats we face due to climate change and explore how we can address these issues through improving the sustainability of our homes, workplaces, farms and industries.”
Together, Detjens and Bordelon have formed a connection at U of I through a mutual passion for education, promoting sustainability practices and a love for seeing students succeed in their endeavors. Bordelon chose to get involved with UISC because of opportunities to promote student leadership on sustainability issues. For Detjens, UISC was the ideal place to put to work the passion cultivated during her 10 years of farming and teaching sustainability in central Washington.
Students gain a close connection to one of the necessities of life by working at the farm. Many students have continued to stay involved because of the unparalleled education they receive through hands-on learning. Research projects are also available to students. Annually, between 100 and 150 students volunteer at the farm. Though students come from all different walks of life, they have the same goal: to make the university more sustainable for a better future.
Vegetables grown at the farm are sold to the Moscow community and the farm contracts with campus dining services to sell excess vegetables to serve to students in the dining halls.
“I have found that the farm provides a safe space for students to contribute to the greater good. It usually improves people’s outlook on life and provides some clarity,” said Detjens.
Article by Madison Jones, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by University Communications and Marketing
Published in May 2020