June 24, 2016 : By Drew Menard
Liberty University’s Morris Campus Farm is continuing to expand and add new livestock to its sprawling plot on Liberty Mountain.
More land has been cleared for pastures for cows, which will be added to the farm next spring. Chickens continue to peck away on the pasture, and pigs, which joined the farm family this spring, rummage on the outskirts of the forest, clearing underbrush.
There are signs of more growth at the farm, which serves as both an educational and recreational venue for students.
The garden area has been expanded to about an acre-and-a-half with seasonal crops growing outdoors as well as in two high tunnels (similar to greenhouses) and three smaller, wooden hoop houses. There are blackberry bushes and a melon patch, and in the fall, the farm staff hope to have a pumpkin patch. At this point in the summer, crops are transitioning from the cold-hardy greens of spring to more flavorful options like tomatoes, squash, peppers, and zucchini.
|Pigs are the latest livestock at Liberty University's Morris Campus Farm. (Photo by Kaitlyn Becker Johnson)|
In the woods adjacent to the garden area, a new harvest operation is underway — dozens of mushroom logs are colonizing and should bear various edible fungi in a few months.
A timber framed pergola will be the future site of an earthen, wood-fired oven for baking bread and cooking pizzas.
All of the farming and gardening practices implemented at the farm are done with sustainability in mind. This includes utilizing an industrial-grade in-vessel composter. Manure from the Liberty University Equestrian Center and food scraps from the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall are recycled there — a decomposition process taking about a month and a half — into rich, nitrogenous soil.
Students are taught how to foster soil health and to grow a number of crops without the use of pesticides or other harmful toxins.
“When we grow our food in this fashion, we are able to provide the community with high-quality, nutrient-dense food, and to show our students how they can produce it at home,” said Kyle Herrington, the Morris Campus Farm education and events coordinator. “By growing food this way, and having (students) come alongside us in the process, they are able to take these skills with them.”
In addition to bringing more homegrown produce to local communities, Herrington hopes to see Liberty students take these skills to the mission field.
“Food is something that brings people together … it always gets conversations going, it builds relationships.”
Rising senior Savannah Froese hopes to have a career in agricultural missions. She volunteers at the farm during the school year and is a farm student worker this summer. Froese, who is studying biology with a minor in chemistry, said she believes anyone can benefit from spending time there.
“There is a huge sense of ownership when you are growing your own food,” she said. “You are seeing a plant from the size of a little seed and you are working the soil on your own. You are putting so much time and effort and energy into it, and then you get a visible product that you can then enjoy and share with other people.”
Throughout the year, the Campus Farm staff host and participate in a number of community events, including farmer’s markets, educational presentations, and documentary screenings. A harvest festival is planned for the fall.
The farm regularly hosts tours for local school groups. University departments are also invited to visit the farm, giving them a chance to get out of the office and enjoy creation.
|Fresh, seasonal produce grown at Liberty's Morris Campus Farm are available at the weekly Liberty Farmer's Market in the Doc's Parking Lot. (Photo by Kevin Manguiob)|
Produce is available for purchase at the weekly Liberty Farmer’s Market, hosted by Sodexo (Liberty’s dining services provider). The market is held in the Doc’s parking lot every Thursday (weather permitting, mid-April to early November) from 3:30-6 p.m. and includes a number of other local growers and artisans.
Froese, a native of Indiana, said she likes having access to farm-fresh food.
“When I go to the farmer’s market, I know exactly how they have grown it, who is growing it, how they have harvested it and how fresh it is.”
Liberty staff members have the opportunity each season to buy into the Campus Farm’s Harvest Share program, where they receive a weekly portion of fresh, seasonal produce grown at the farm. Whole chickens can be preordered or purchased at the farmer’s market and eggs will soon be available as well. The Campus Farm also donates produce to several local charities, including the Liberty Godparent Home, Lynchburg Grows, and the Lynchburg Daily Bread. It also supplies food for the Farmer’s Field eatery at Liberty’s Tilley Student Center.
On July 22 from 3-6:30 p.m., Sodexo will host a combined Community Market on Liberty’s campus during the Virginia Commonwealth Games main events weekend. Farmer’s markets from Liberty, Lynchburg, Bedford, and Forest will come together with over 100 local vendors, growers, artisans, and food trucks in attendance.