GWC farm brings new meaning to ‘college classroom’

GWC Research Farm

As part of their coursework, students check the progress on plants in the Research and Education Farm located on the upper campus of George Williams College of Aurora University in Williams Bay, Wis.

Most people probably wouldn’t expect to see rows of fruit and vegetable plants as they enter a college campus. However, an expanding Research and Education Farm near the entrance of George Williams College of Aurora University is showcasing what students are learning and putting into practice on the 133-acre Williams Bay, Wis., campus. Created to educate students on sustainability and provide applied experience in the field, the farm features an expanding college garden, composting area and greenhouse complete with research lab.

At the farm, students learn the process of growing food from field to plate, understanding the practice and importance of organic produce and the reasoning of its costly price tag at retailers. “The farm provides an educational opportunity that students can truly benefit from,” said sophomore sustainability and environmental management major Justin Booker. “On top of that, organic gardens offer us food that is considerably more healthy and nutritious without the additional toxins that are applied to many of our larger farms.”

Undergraduates also analyze the ground, building up the soil at different times of the year as they plant seasonal produce.  Last summer locally grown produce was given to campus faculty and students, but future plans include a farm stand open to the community.

“The farm is extremely important to my college experience because it allows me to learn new things within the field of environmental management through hands-on experience,” said freshman sustainability and environmental management major Landon Baumgartner.  “Working on the farm allows me to gain knowledge I would not have gained in an everyday classroom setting.”

The composting area of the farm complements GWC’s commitment to sustainable practices. Pre-composting food waste from the cafeteria, as well as weeds from Geneva Lake are incorporated as the students study different methods of composting and carbon sequestration. Also new this semester is a modified greenhouse, which includes an area for the study of hydroponics, a method of growing plants with mineral solutions in water without soil. A small research lab is also located at the farm where students compare and contrast greenhouse-grown to field-grown produce.

“Concepts I’ve learned in class help me understand what’s going on in the garden and sometimes the garden helps me understand something I students in class,” said sophomore sustainability and environmental management major Esther Sharp. “Also I get to be outside, which always makes me happy.”

The Research and Education Farm is cared for by students in the sustainability and environmental management and parks and recreation majors, undergraduates in the work experience program and students involved in class-driven projects. The farm is overseen by Assistant Professor of Environmental and General Science Richard Boniak.

Future plans for the Research and Education Farm include a greenhouse, raised bed garden which provides excellent drainage for vegetables and flowers, cut flowers plantings, a vineyard for use in jams and jellies and a campus farm stand open to the public.

To learn more about studying at George Williams College, visit the GWC academic programs webpage.