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On the Farm

An Interview with W&M Dining Interns About Their Experience at Kelrae Farms


W&M Dining students at Kelrae Farm

T: Talia
L: Livia
M: Melissa
I: Michelle, interviewer

I: Can you guys tell me about what you do at Kelrae Farms?

M: W&M Dining rents eight 120 yard rows from Kelrae Farms, and we take volunteers out every week to seed, plant, weed, take care of, and harvest the rows when it’s time. All of the produce raised from the rows then goes back into our dining halls, as a part of the sustainability initiative to get more local produce, which also cuts down on the amount of emissions from trucks that have to ship the produce from California or wherever it’s grown.

L: Our goal is to put more sustainably-grown, locally-produced food into the dining halls in the way we don’t normally have, especially to increase the seasonality and nutrition of what we’re eating, and provide healthier options. At the same time, we’re reconnecting students with the food process and giving people the opportunity to find out what agriculture looks like and how fulfilling it can be to farm, overcome challenges and appreciate where the food comes from. It’s really cool to bring out different groups, like the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC).

T: And the Filipino American Student Association, the Bike Alliance…

L: Even Freshman halls, sometimes, like Sharpe Scholars—groups that might not always think about farming and the opportunities to experience it.

I: Can you tell me more about what you offer for students?

L: During the spring, we have two days a week that we go out to the farm and you get to learn how to seed or weed or harvest produce, depending on what we need to do at the time. Then, we give a little tour of the farm and you can meet the animals, maybe the farmers, and take cute pictures! In the fall, we do that more like three to four times a week since we can harvest more produce in August and September.

T: If students wanted to come out or bring a group out, they should send us an email at wmgreendining@gmail.com to sign up to go out to the farm weekly with us. We also have events, like Farm Day, that are open to the public, students and staff. So we really welcome students, regardless of your previous experience with farming, to come out with us and help.

L: Yeah, you don’t need to know anything about farming to do this; it’s really fun, easy, and accessible. We teach you everything you need to know.

I: Do you guys have any fond memories or something that was very memorable?

M: Last February, we were out on a weirdly super-warm day and looking over our rows, kind of figuring out what was going on. We found this weird patch of what looked like the top of carrots, and we started pulling them up and we had this huge amount of surprise carrots. They’re not supposed to last the winter but they did, so we spent the whole rest of the day eating carrots. It was really fun.

Students harvesting carrots.

L: I think one of the most fun things that I’ve seen on the farm was when we were harvesting watermelons this fall. The way you harvest watermelons is that someone has to stand near the bushel basket to catch the watermelon and another person pulls the watermelon off the vine and throws it to the person standing behind the bushel to make it very efficient. So just seeing tons of people just heaving these watermelons, and sometimes dropping them is really fun. It’s just an image of farming that you don’t normally get to see.

M: We were doing it one time, and I was on the catching side and Livia was on the throwing side. She threw it a little short and I lunged for it kind of weirdly, so it slammed into my knee and I had a bruise for a week from a watermelon. But it’s not a normal thing, we don’t hurt you!

T: One of the best things about watermelons, too, is that we’ll sometimes have extra, and the way that we open watermelons on the farm is that we’ll throw them against the ground so it opens and we’ll eat with our hands! We sit on the ground and share with someone else and get your face covered with watermelon juice. I also really enjoyable seeing some of the groups that we’ve been able to take out. One of my fondest memories was biking to the farm with the Bike Alliance, and being able to harvest and have a nice picnic. I have learned more about the kind of connection we have with nature from the farm. I feel like I’ve been able to make friends by bringing out people to the farm because you really don’t have internet out there or cell connection, so you just talk with each other for two hours while you’re harvesting plants. It’s very therapeutic and a really great way to actually have good conversation with people.

Students eating fresh watermelon at the farm.

I: What is your favorite part about working on the farm?

M: My favorite part is being able to see exactly what we’ve done and the visible productivity of it. I think it’s something that we don’t get at school a lot. You’ll feel really satisfied when you finish a big paper, but you just turn in that paper and won’t really look at it again. It’s not like farming where you go and plant the seed, get to see the plant come up, harvest it, and get to eat it. You’re part of the whole process, and it’s a different type of productivity that we’re not really exposed to in the academic world.

L: I really like how connected it makes you feel to the community, especially the Greater Williamsburg area, like talking to the farmers, getting to know them and their family, the people that come to the farm that you get to meet. We get to meet different types of people from our school, like campus workers, staff and the employees that come out, and getting to meet different professors. You definitely get this greater sense of the community that we’re all a part of, and it grows and revolves around the food that we eat.

T: It’s been amazing to get to know the families. We’ve been going since the spring of 2016, and it’s crazy, the little things, too. I remember when Lacey their puppy was the size of my hands, and now Lacey is the size of a full grown dog. We’ve been doing this for a while and have seen Jesse and Gracie and the girls all get older. It’s amazing to see this as a community project.

At the farm with a chicken.

I: What drew you guys to the farm initially, like, what made you guys join?

M: I had been volunteering at a different farm in Richmond for a little while. I actually knew Talia through a Branch Out trip to a farm that I was volunteering at. She established this program and reached out to me to see if I was interested in coming out, and I was very interested and I just have never stopped.

T: Melissa was the #1 volunteer coming out every Friday, consistently.

L: I think Talia also brought me out to the farm. I’ve been through a few other farms through SEAC and liked it. Talia found me and I loved the farm so I never stopped coming out.

M: Talia is responsible for everyone! When someone asks, “how did you hear about the farm?” it’s all because they’re friends with Talia. Sounds about right.

T: We originally started in 2016 when this fellow, Darry, who worked for catering services, had been walking around the Farmer’s Market and thought that the farm was such a cool way to connect William & Mary to the larger community, and to get students to know about food. So, he talked to me, we made a plan and W&M Dining workers became interested in it as well. From there, it’s just been a team effort of students and W&M Dining staff to get investment in the farm.