Farming, composting, and tips with the Purdue Student Farm

We took a trip out to the Purdue Student Farm and spoke to the farm manager Chris to learn more about the farm, composting and how to start your own garden inside your own dorm or apartment.

Farm manager Chris Adler with some beans

When was the Purdue Student Farm started?

The first student farm was actually established in 2010 at a different location. This site is actually the newest site that we moved to in 2016. I actually returned to Purdue to accept this manager position right before we transitioned to our new site.

What is the purpose of the farm?

It was to small farm to give a place for students to work with. When we started as undergrads, all of us really had no experience even as horticulture or botany and plant pathology students. Now, we use the farm to further learning experiences. Some classes use this space as a lab, we also offer paid work for students, and for the student farm club to host activities and gain experience through helping out at the farm.

The farm does sell produce to the dining courts, but can students and faculty come to the farm to buy produce? 

We do have a vegetable produce box we are selling on a weekly basis. We only put together around 25 boxes so they sell out pretty quickly. We hand them out on Fridays so if you’re interested, you need to order the box through the Hoosier Food Market website. We will continue selling these boxes up to November, but keep a look out for next year as we will increase the amount we sell.

Sounds amazing! What can we find in these delicious produce boxes?

It’s a mix of what we have available that week. Some items you can expect are tomatoes, peppers, herbs, garlic, onions and soon we will have ginger.

The previous week’s produce box.

We see the farm does compost, what is being composted and does the farm take in any compostable materials?

We don’t take off site compostables as it’ll be too overwhelming. It can take up to 6 to 12 months so it’ll add up quickly if you can’t hold and store the quantity of materials you want to compost. We cannot hold that amount and the farm is only certified for onsite composting. As for what we compost, it’s anything that goes bad on us when picking and any plant material that we don’t need.

From left to right: the left container is almost finished composting, the middle container is about halfway finished, and the right holds new material. Chris stated the three containers will have to be mixed together so the produce in the right container will not rot and to speed up the composting process.

What are the benefits of composting? For the farm or just in general.

The nice thing for us is the compost can later be used as fertilizer for this site. We’re not just destroying and ripping stuff out of the ground for no reason, we want to reuse and recycle those nutrients. You see it occurring naturally in many ecosystems so we’re trying to replicate that here on a smaller scale.

Is composting on an individual or household level possible? Can students compost themselves?

It’ll be very difficult as there is no good way to compost in small settings, for example probably can’t compost in a cup. You need space so I would recommend bins, but you will still need extra help such as worms.

Is there anything to beware of when someone first starts composting then?

Composting is a very hard science to get right. Having too much water can make your compost rot, if the temperature is wrong your compost will get messed up, so you have to do your research. You need to know how to balance out your compost as well. You can’t just throw a bunch of tomatoes into a bin and think it will create good compost. They are full of water so you need to balance them out with, say some dry grass to soak up the liquid. Being careful of the stream of materials you compost is important too. I don’t recommend throwing in meat for small compost containers. Lastly, you need to clean everything before composting too, just like how you have to clean out containers before recycling. 

Besides composting, if a student would like to start growing their own plants in their dorm or apartment, what would you suggest growing?

Different herbs as they do well in small pots. Basil and thyme does well and you can just pick them off when you need them. Growing vegetables will be hard especially if you don’t have adequate sunlight coming in as the plants will elongate. Having a full mini garden in your place will be hard so I recommend starting off small before buying every plant from the store. Think of your return on investment as well, if you grow a pepper plant in a small space you might not get too many.

To learn more about composting, click these links below:

To buy the farm produce boxes, click the link below

To take a virtual tour of the farm, click this link

Stay tuned as we will have another article coming soon on personal experiences of students gardening in a dorm and in an apartment!


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