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Towson University's urban farm thrives, creates community

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Posted at 8:08 AM, Jun 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-11 08:08:23-04

Most students aren't on Towson's campus over the summer, but if you look in the right spot, you'd see a few farmers.

The Towson University Urban Farm, run as a co-op of student and faculty volunteers, provides access to fresh produce and an opportunity to practice gardening just off York Road.

Benjamin Warner, a published author and professor at Towson University who teaches creative writing, helped launch the farm a few years ago. He’s been the faculty advisor ever since.

He started the project with a student from the Honors College at Towson, who wanted to get the farm together as a part of a senior project.

Warner said he was excited to start the farm because he had seen such great success at a community farm he had helped start in his neighborhood in Baltimore. He said starting the project with a few of his neighbors really created a sense of community.

"If I could get that on such a small scale with a few neighbors, what could that do for students on campus?” Warner said. “That's been the most fulfilling aspect of the farm, is that students have become friends here, which is not what I anticipated before we broke ground here.”

Right now, the farm is growing sweet potatoes, two types of onions, two types of potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, strawberries, pears, peaches, hops, figs, raspberries, peppers, beans and a variety of herbs—with pumpkins and squash to come later.

But for Warner, and the students who tend to the farm, the thing that grows fastest on their little plot of land is a sense of community.

“The feeling of community was almost instant,” Neta Shwartz a recent Towson graduate, said. “I made connections with a lot of different people.”

Shwartz just graduated, but is still tending to the farm because of how much she enjoyed working it her last semester, and because of the friendships she made there.

"The people are very down to earth and people that I can get along with,” she said. “We share a common connection that we want students to get back to their roots, so to speak.”

A busy farm takes many hands to tend. But, as anyone with a garden knows, a lot of work has to be put in during the summer—exactly when Towson’s campus is most deprived of students.

Rachel Lent, a rising junior at Towson, is around for the summer because she’s working on a research project. She said she originally started coming to the farm because of a class assignment, but has grown to really enjoy her time there.

“Everybody here is really cool,” Lent said. “Honestly, the first day I came here I felt like everyone was really welcoming.”

In addition to offering a place to meet friends, contribute to a sustainable project and eat fresh produce, the farm can be educational by teaching students how to garden, a skill they can carry with them the rest of their lives.

“We spend a lot of time planning and meeting and talking about gardening, introducing people to gardening," Warner said. And then, when things warm up, “We go really hard in the early fall and late spring, when the ground is warm enough and soft enough to put stuff in the ground."

“Being able to garden is something you can use any time,” Shwarz said, even if it’s just a little box for herbs in an apartment window.

Food from the farm is most often shared by the volunteers who work it, but Warner said food has been sold at farmers markets, shared at food banks and distributed on campus. In the future, he said, he wants the farm to branch out.

“We aspire to work more with the wider community,” Warner said. He’d like to see people from Towson, not just students, coming to the farm to collaborate together.

And he thinks, for anyone, working the farm can be a fulfilling and worthwhile endeavor.

“There is a very deep connection I think, even for people who would not say they are environmentalists,” Warner said. “I've had students come out here and say, 'I hate nature.' I'm not sure what that means, and then they find that fulfilling somehow to stick their hands in the ground and grow something, and watch something grow. I think it's just a very human sensation.” 

The farm is planted next to the university Administration Building, at the intersection of York Road and Cross Campus Drive in Towson.

The group can be found on Facebook by searching "Towson University Urban Farm."

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