Duke Campus Farm: Connecting the Community from Root to Shoot

Upon first glance, Duke Campus Farm (DCF) appears to be a sustainable farming operation located on the outskirts of Duke Forest (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.e). Yet in actuality, DCF is an organization that strives to not only provide organic produce to Duke dining facilities and the surrounding community, but also catalyze positive change in the food system (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). By highlighting the values and connections that food can create within the community, as well as the role each individual can play within their local food system, Duke Campus Farm aims to demonstrate that there can be a mutually beneficial relationship between farms of all scales and those that they serve (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). We met virtually with Program Director, Dr. Saskia Cornes, to discuss DCF and its role in strengthening community ties through the local food system.  

 

Photo Credit: Duke Campus Farm

DCF’s Roots: History and Mission

Founded just 10 years ago, DCF is still a relatively young program (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). The farm was initially created to provide produce to Duke campus dining as well as hands-on learning opportunities for students around sustainable agriculture (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Since then, the farm has been bolstered by student projects, faculty collaborations and masters assistantships to enhance production operations, programming and academic offerings. (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). In addition to four full-time staff and twelve students, DCF now also offers community work days twice a week, typically bringing in 800 to 1,000 volunteers who physically contribute to sustainable farming practices (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). As a key form of community programming, these work days offer the opportunity for individuals to get out of their comfort zones and explore the process by which their food is produced (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020)

In addition to community work days, the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program also provides the opportunity to expose students and community members to the sustainable agricultural system in place at the farm (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.b). CSA operates by allowing community members to become financial stakeholders who support the farm’s operations and educational programming (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.b). In turn, these members receive a share of the season’s produce and better understand where their food has come from (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.b). Notably, due to COVID, CSA was canceled this year so that produce could instead go to Root Causes (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020), a program led by Duke Medical students offering home delivery of healthy food options to Durham households experiencing food insecurity. 

 

Photo Credit: Melissa Keeney

Developing a Social Network: Duke, Durham, and Duke Campus Farm

Over the past decade, DCF has become immersed in a social network of people and organizations throughout Duke and Durham. DCF’s network is primarily local (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.d), reinforcing the New York Times’ findings that social networks are strongly influenced by distance (Badger & Bui, 2018). Even so, with growing numbers of alumni and DCF’s expanding mission, the farm’s impact is expanding both within the Duke and Durham communities and beyond.

The Farm supports a small staff dedicated to fulfilling DCF’s central mission and building connections with the wider community (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.a). They hire a Student Farm Crew each year of about twelve Duke students who work with the Farm’s staff on daily gardening activities, organizing community work days, preparing the produce for DCF’s CSA and Duke Dining, and providing tours of the site (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.c). The Student Farm Crew also learns about small-scale organic agriculture (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.c). The crew members are often not people with experience in the food system, but the crew experience has been effective in engaging a diverse group of people in learning about sustainable farming practices (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Several past crew members have pursued careers focused on the food system, contributing to DCF’s growing and widespread alumni network (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

Additionally, DCF partners with several classes each year, across Duke’s various schools (Duke Campus Farm, 2019). As mentioned above, DCF also hosts near 1,000 volunteers, primarily students, through its community work days each year, who physically contribute to sustainable farming practices (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). As a key form of community programming, these work days offer the opportunity for individuals to get out of their comfort zones and explore the process by which their food is produced (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Students volunteer either independently or through student groups like the APO Service Fraternity and the Fuqua School of Business Food & Agriculture Club (Duke Campus Farm, 2019). While large community workdays have been suspended due to COVID-19, DCF continues to offer socially-distant on-farm opportunities.

DCF’s position within the larger Duke network has very likely enabled it to more easily connect with many of its stakeholders. Connections to a larger network can be essential, even for well-supplied organizations (MDRC, 2020). For example, by becoming a part of this larger Duke network, DCF can more easily reach students through volunteer involvement in student groups or in Duke’s various schools. In addition to the social capital that DCF has developed over the past decade, DCF also benefits from Duke University’s reputation as a trusted organization. “[T]rusted organizations” are often the ones that people look to for information. Additionally, having such dense, existing connections between students helps to facilitate information sharing within DCF’s primary target audience (Young et al., 2010, p. 31). A recommendation to further build those connections could be to implement a program connecting DCF with high school students in the Durham area to offer internships or specific work days, as a way of introducing them to opportunities at Duke such as DCF. If funding were possible, a scholarship or pathway to admission at Duke would also help strengthen DCF’s ties to the local community and larger network in and around Durham. 

A Changing Approach to Partnerships: From Ensuring Permanency to Promoting Equity

When DCF first began, it sought to partner with any willing organization, to try to embed itself in the Duke and Durham community (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Now that DCF is more established, it seeks to select partners based on the Farm’s substantive mission and goals around equity and inclusion (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). DCF is housed within Duke’s Facilities Department, which has historically promoted sustainability through a primarily environmental lens (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). 

In recent years, Duke Campus Farm has started to take a deeper look at the political, economic, and cultural structures to which the agriculture community is so closely tied (Kais and Islam, 2016). Specifically, this now includes focusing more closely on the role of equity frameworks in agriculture and seeking partnerships within the community that share those frameworks in order to do more proximate work both on the farm and in the classroom (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). 

DCF has also strived to connect more closely with the history and culture of North Carolina farmers, including the history of plantation agriculture and chattel slavery that is part of the land that the farm currently resides on. When asked how the farm has worked to connect students with its history, Dr. Cornes noted that DCF has been exploring how to talk about and confront the farm’s history as part of a former plantation, including the idea that the site that they work was a site of labor for at least 36 enslaved people (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). 

She explained that for the last seven to eight years, DCF has run a heritage garden to grow crops that would have been produced at different points in history, as an entry point and teaching tool to better discuss and incorporate indigenous history, enslavement, and even the broader plight of migrant farm workers today (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Charlie Thompson, a member of DCF’s Board of Advisors, took the lead on creating a mural as another visual representation of land and labor in and around DCF (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). 

Photo of DCF mural by artist Cornelio Campos. Photo Credit: Ilona Stanback.

To better understand and integrate the cultural, historical, and political aspects of the farm, as well as the larger North Carolina agricultural community, local artist Cornelio Campos worked with students in Charlie Thompson’s “NC Farmworkers” class, as well as a range of community-based organizations including representatives of the Earthseed Land Collective, the Occannechee band of the Saponi, Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry, the Stagville Historic Plantation and Student Action with Farmworkers (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Their aim was to depict the indigenous, African American, and hispanic communities’ roles in the state’s agricultural roots and traditions (Stanback, 2018). You can learn more about the mural at https://arts.duke.edu/news/new-mural-honors-nc-farmworkers/. A way to further build upon this mural, and the hard work done by students, Cornelio Campos, and Professor Thompson, would be to periodically revisit the mural and make updates or additions based on what is going on in the community.

DCF has also been in contact with public-facing organizations that grapple with these same issues and questions surrounding their cultural and political histories. A recommended next step for DCF is to partner with Black-owned and Black-led organizations within the Durham community (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

Photo Credit: Duke Campus Farm

 

Branching Out to the Community

Looking into the future, DCF is still a growing program that is continuing to explore the ways in which students and community members can be better exposed to the food system. One key piece to this is increasing accessibility to the farm (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Although being located outside of central Durham has benefits to the farm, its distance ultimately puts a cap on how many and the kinds of people in the community that DCF can reach (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

One way in which DCF is looking ahead to reach and better connect with the community is through expansion of the farm to Duke’s Central Campus (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). The move to Central Campus has been a long-held goal for DCF (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Although infrastructure, practices, and produce will likely be similar to the current location, a farm within the city offers the opportunity to take advantage of transportation structures already in place, providing a key source of accessibility to all citizens in the community (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

This expansion would also provide an opening for more community-facing work and more feasible collaboration with other community groups (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). This includes work with Durham County Beekeepers Association, Root Causes, and Change Center Community Garden, among others (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). DCF also hopes to build a kitchen facility, open by reservation, that would allow the community to come in for classes and serve as a wellness facility (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Staff also hope to have a dedicated office and class space at the new location, which would increase their capacity to engage with Duke classes and their partners (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). With the opportunity for tighter partnerships with other community-based organizations, Duke Campus Farm sees a future in which more sectors of the community have a place and a voice at the sustainable agriculture table (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).  

 

Root Causes: A Key Partnership

During the COVID pandemic, DCF has especially strengthened its partnership with Root Causes, a Duke Med-based association that aims to improve the health and wellness of the community, including medical patients, by promoting sustainable, humane food production (Root Causes, n.d.). DCF partners with Root Causes on several projects including the Duke Outpatient Fresh Produce Program and the Change Center Community Garden (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.d). More generally, the Farm and Root Causes support the Healthy Campus Initiative, which aims to improve the health of food at Duke (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.d). DCF’s collaboration with Root Causes develops bridging social capital, as Root Causes connects DCF to new groups of people that differ from those that DCF was previously reaching (Pretty & Smith, 2004). This includes both the medical school community and Duke outpatients (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). You can learn more about Root Causes here: https://www.rootcauseshealth.org/.

A new Central Campus location will help DCF to expand upon this partnership with Root Causes (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). The plans for the location reflect the idea of developing DCF’s social network further by “[b]uild[ing] on existing concerns” within the community (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020; Young et al., 2010, p. 32). The new location will be walking distance to the Medical School campus (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). One vision of this new farm could be a place where medical students can develop a more holistic view of nutrition, something that the Medical School has been seeking to develop within their curriculum, and as a wellness facility to help counter the burnout that is often associated with medical school programs (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

A veggie prescription program could similarly address existing needs. Through the program, DCF and Root Causes hope to provide home deliveries of healthy staples, both produce from the farm and household goods, to Duke outpatients who screen positive for food insecurity and, often, diet-related diseases (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). DCF hopes to provide culturally significant foods through the program, and to provide food that these households want, but that may not be otherwise available to them (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Dr. Cornes emphasized that this program would “think about these households as full members of the community as opposed to thinking of them as recipients of charity.” (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020) This also underscores one of the key reasons why DCF values their partnership with Root Causes so highly, as Root Causes seeks to engage with people and their well-being more holistically and to create relationships that sustain collective transformation (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

Below is a brief overview of some of the Farm’s main stakeholders and their general roles:

Implementers Power Brokers Participants Partners
Staff Office of the Executive Vice President Volunteers (students, faculty, staff, Durham community members) Root Causes
Student Farm Crew Duke Facilities / Duke University CSA Members Faculty teaching classes that engage with DCF
Charlie Thompson, Professor of the Practice of Cultural Anthropology and Documentary Studies at Duke University and DCF Board of Advisors Member Sustainable Duke Students in classes that engage with DCF Durham County Beekeepers’ Association
Duke Forest Duke Dining Student Action with Farmworkers
Board of Advisors Marketplace Local Artist Cornelio Campos
Duke Diet and Fitness
Alumni
Duke Med outpatients

Note: Some of these organizations play multiple roles in relation to DCF. The organizations were identified by consulting Duke Campus Farm’s 2019 Annual Report and website (Duke Campus Farm, n.d.d; Duke Campus Farm, 2019).

 

Soil: Mineral, Animal, Plant and Community Builder

A distinct aspect of DCF’s role in the community is the holistic lens of their work, which truly embodies the three-legged stool approach to community-based environmental management. The farm isn’t just about operationalizing environmental sustainability with a select group of Duke students who get to grow produce. It also targets social and food justice and economic security within the Durham community. Through Root Casues, DCF works to alleviate inequities and nutritional health disparities in the larger Durham food system by serving some of its most vulnerable citizens (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020; Waas et. al, 2011). DCF is about being accessible to anyone interested in showing up, growing food and learning about their place in the food system – which inevitably strengthens community ties (Harper, 2020). Those who work on the farm are able to receive produce that might otherwise be completely inaccessible to them in traditional grocery stores. DCF also works to recognize the role of the farm and the significance of the land that it occupies historically and culturally within Durham (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). By establishing a heritage garden, thinking through the partnerships and voices they elevate, and working to educate around the site’s labor history, DCF uses its voice to represent the full history of the community that it serves. DCF also strives to teach its volunteers that a human being can have a direct positive effect on the environment (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Mostly, it’s about realizing that a community is made up of both people and place coming together to support each other (Kais and Islam, 2016).

DCF is an amazing educational tool for the students that pass through and are able to not only plant, nurture, grow and distribute produce, but also see the tangible effects on the land they’re working on (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020).

“To me, agriculture is an important metaphor for our relationship with the nonhuman world generally…The idea that we can have a reparative relationship with the nonhuman world, even in this one small, enclosed space, can feel really empowering and energizing,” says Dr. Cornes (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). 

She added DCF’s number one priority with short-term volunteers is to change their relationship with the soil, by encouraging them to see it not just as an inert substance, but as an “ancient, vibrant ecology” (Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, Sept. 29, 2020). Directly, the health of the soil determines the health of a community (Hoover & MacDonald, 2014). By seeing the soil through this lens, students can begin to see their labor as a metaphor for the reciprocal relationship they can have with a place (Gómez-Baggethun et al., 2013).

Every single person plays a role in the food system. In aiming to educate and connect the larger community, DCF leverages its role as a producer to also identify and mitigate disparities, to educate, to connect, and to be accessible. Because of this, Duke Campus Farm truly exemplifies a holistic community-serving environment for the city of Durham.

Photo Credit: Duke Campus Farm

Citations

Badger, E. & Bui, Q. (2018, September 19). How Connected Is Your Community to Everywhere Else in America. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/19/upshot/facebook-county-friendships.html

Duke Campus Farm. (n.d.-a). Duke Campus Farm Staff. https://sustainability.duke.edu/farm/about/staff

Duke Campus Farm. (n.d.-b). Community Supported Agriculture. https://sustainability.duke.edu/farm/ourwork/csa

Duke Campus Farm. (n.d.-c). Student Crew. https://sustainability.duke.edu/farm/getinvolved/jobs 

Duke Campus Farm. (n.d.-d). Where Our Produce Goes. https://sustainability.duke.edu/farm/ourwork/where-our-produce-goes 

Duke Campus Farm. (n.d.-e). Retrieved October 4, 2020 from https://sustainability.duke.edu/farm 

Duke Campus Farm. (2019). Duke Campus Farm Annual Report 2019. https://issuu.com/dukecampusfarm/docs/2019_annual_report__edit_this_one___27_

Gómez-Baggethun, E., Corbera, E., & Reyes-García, V. (2013). Traditional ecological knowledge and global environmental change: research findings and policy implications. Ecology and society: a journal of integrative science for resilience and sustainability, 18(4).

Harper, A. (2020). Benefits of Community Supported Agriculture. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/principles_and_benefits_of_community_supported_agriculture

Hoover, B., & MacDonald, L. (2014). Journal of Sustainability Education. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from http://www.susted.com/wordpress/content/campus-agriculture-education-educating-food-citizens-or-producers_2017_07/ 

Kais, S. M., & Islam, M. S. (2016). International journal of environmental research and public health, 13(12), 1211.

MDRC. (2020). Introduction: Understanding Community Collaborations Through Social Network Analysis. https://www.mdrc.org/chicago-community-networks-study/introduction-social-network-analysis

Root Causes. (n.d.) Mission Statement. https://www.rootcauseshealth.org/who-we-are

Personal Communications, Dr. Saskia Cornes, September 29, 2020. Zoom interview.

Pretty, J. & Smith, D. (2004). Social Capital in Biodiversity Conservation and Management. Conservation Biology, 18(3), 633. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3589073

Stanback, I. (2018). New Student Mural Honors NC Farmworkers. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://arts.duke.edu/news/new-mural-honors-nc-farmworkers/ 

Waas, T., Hugé, J., Verbruggen, A., Wright, T. (2011). Sustainable Development: A Bird’s Eye View. Sustainability, 3,1637-1661.

Young, L., Pieterson, W., Hsieh, Y-I., Wang, H., & Contractor, N. (2010). Mapping community-based information networks to enable the Chicago Climate Action Plan: A case study of the North Kenwood/Oakland community. Northwestern University. https://sakai.duke.edu/access/content/group/ENVIRON.755D.001.F20/Sept%2017%20-%20Local%20Institutions/ContractorEtAl%20Mapping%20Com%20Networks%20Mapping%20Chicago%20Com%20Action%20Plan.pdf

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