Farming for the future

Willow Lake Student Farm produces a future in food and helps those in need.

Farming is the backbone of our nation. From fresh produce to organic goods, farmers and their farms are unsung heroes of the food industry. K-State’s Willow Lake Student Farm fosters the next generation of producers in the horticulture industry by providing opportunities for students to grow fresh produce and help campus organizations provide fresh food to the community.

“The farm was created in 2008 as a student project with support from horticulture department faculty,” said farm manager Regan Hale, a graduate student in agronomy and software engineering. “About 2.5 acres were carved out of an existing off-campus forestry research station and designated as the Willow Lake Student Farm. Since that time, the farm has expanded to include a total of seven acres, which include various research projects and a fruit and vegetable production operation.”

The Willow Lake Student Farm gives students the chance to gain experience and firsthand knowledge of organic produce and the horticulture industry. “The student farm serves as a living laboratory for horticulture courses such as fruit production, vegetable production and sustainable agriculture,” Hale said. “The farm provides meaningful learning opportunities to students outside of the classroom to better understand topics related to food production including those about sustainability, equity, economics and self-sufficiency. Additionally, the farm provides a local source of fresh produce that is distributed to students through our partnerships with on-campus dining centers, as well as resources such as the Cats’ Cupboard.”

The Willow Lake Student Farm also provides opportunities for all students and researchers to benefit from all that it has to offer. “Beyond the Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources, students across campus come to the farm for events and volunteer days and are able to engage with topics related to agriculture and food production in a meaningful and hands-on way,” Hale said. “The farm hosts several research projects, including first-of-its-kind replicated research on permaculture techniques like hügelkultur (planting method) and food forests, in addition to more traditional specialty crop research. We have also cultivated working relationships with the Servicemembers Agricultural Vocational Education and the Kansas Permaculture Institute to host workshops and other educational events at the farm.”

Hale hopes that the Willow Lake Student Farm’s lasting impact will be that it provided a chance for all students to learn new things about the horticulture industry while making them think about how big of a role organic produce plays in the food industry. “My hope is that the farm will have a lasting impact by engaging not only our students that are future producers but also all students as future eaters to think critically about the modern challenges facing the food system and how they might play a role in addressing them.”

Learn more about the Willow Lake Student Farm.

By James Dalton Burton

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