Student-Operated Urban Farm

School District Funds Hands-On Learning

Since 2016, the Corvallis School District has operated an Urban Farm where as many as fifteen Freshmen and Sophomores plant and nurture half an acre at the Harding Center — once the playground of Harding Elementary School. Students make the decisions on what to plant and when, how to irrigate and fertilize, how to schedule and divide chores, and how to plan up to five years into the farm’s future.

Students raise garden vegetables like squash and corn, keep chickens for eggs, and raise bees for honey and beeswax. They harvest crops and sell them at the Urban Farm’s own farm stand. Proceeds from the farm stand support the Urban Farm’s budget, although most of its funding comes from the school district’s discretionary program budget of $7,000.

Besides working on the farm plot itself, students also work in the classroom, planning schedules and grant applications, writing promotional brochures, and doing research on agriculture so that the Urban Farm can serve as an integrated vocational program. The District’s intention is that students will apply many different skills to the practical challenge of operating their farm. Students carry out activities related to farming, such as building hives for native pollinators which will result in greater yields from their flowering crops, as well as taking field trips to nearby locations where they can learn about related subjects.

Students benefit from the guidance of Program Coordinator Eric Wright, Lead Teacher Cherie Taylor, and Educational Assistants Susan Mulkey and Mark Lovejoy, on top of having access to local experts. With the Mid-Valley area having such a diverse agricultural community of farms, both large and small — producing everything from llama wool to grass seed, free-range eggs to honey — there is no shortage of people for the students to consult.

“I came to College Hill in February and have worked on the Farm ever since,” says 16-year-old Sophomore Tim Mulvey. “I’ve gotten good at planting and harvesting. I also seem to be good with the chickens. I think I might like to do something similar for a job. I like how [the Urban Farm] incorporates different learning styles, so kinesthetic learners, for instance, can get directly involved.”

Also 16, Junior Beau Rinker is impressed by how the Urban Farm group feels like a family. “I actually go to Crescent Valley, I [was] only working here during the summer, but for me it’s a great soft start to having a job.”

You can see the Urban Farm for yourself any Friday from 9:30-11:30 a.m., when they operate their farm stand on site, selling produce and eggs. Behind their stand, you’ll see their rows of crops, chicken coops, and an assortment of hives made for attracting native pollinators. The farm stand closes for the season by the end of October.

by John M. Burt