Among the nation’s first college farms, our farm is a big part of our 130 acre campus, and farm work is well integrated with academic study, the work program, and everyday community life. Students conduct research experiments on the farm, and gain hands-on experience growing crops, managing livestock, using the woodlot, and working with draft horses.
Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Sustainable Food Systems
The Sterling Farm operations are carried out under the umbrella of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. The RFC also collaborates with other colleges and local businesses to strengthen our curriculum and conduct applied research addressing agricultural and food production, marketing, and policy issues. Examples of Fried Center projects include:
- visiting scholar program with the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU;
- an energy audit of Sterling College food production;
- outreach to veterans for use of USDA programming;
- continuing education opportunities in restorative forestry;
- asset mapping of infrastructure needs for non-GMO food production in the northeast;
- seed trials for institutional use of vegetable crops; and
- marketing opportunities for buckling dairy goats.
The Sterling Farm
Since the college’s inception, Sterling Farm has been a prominent feature of a Sterling Education. Our diversified and ecologically focused farm is a part of life here at Sterling–through academic study, the work program, and day-to-day community interactions.
Sterling’s campus food system leads the nation in our use of “Real Food”. At 76% Real Food, we beat out the competition by almost 100%! Around 20% of the food eaten on campus is produced right here, and almost a quarter of the student body work on the farm, gaining hands-on experience managing crops, livestock, woodlands, and diverse power systems.
The Sterling Farm is focused on:
- Educational Programming – To support courses in the Sustainable Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture majors, and ag related minors, as well as applied research, independent studies, senior projects and senior applied research projects(SARPs).
- Food Production – As an educational farm, we model what true farms must focus on–productivity. Our dining hall is our primary customer and students learn to work with the kitchen staff to fill orders in a timely manner and supply high quality products for campus meals. The model of an educational farm with clear production goals provides hands-on experience and a reliable supply of delicious local food.
- Work Program and General Farm Experience – The farm serves as a job site for many students in the work program. All students work in the farm and gardens at some point during their Sterling College experience.
The aim of our crop production system is three-pronged:
- we demonstrate a range of techniques used in sustainable and ecological systems;
- we provide a working laboratory for academic inquiry into farming systems;
- and, we produce food to increase campus sustainability.
At Sterling we manage around 5 acres of land for crop production (excluding pasture). A range of systems can be seen on campus, including intensively planted raised beds, horse cultivated extensive row cropping in rotation with cover crops, terraced alley cropping, forest gardening, and season extension in poly tunnels. We grow around 60 different annual vegetable crops, as well as perennial small fruits, nuts, apples, and other tree fruits. Each year we add to our perennial plantings in conjunction with classes such as Restoration Agriculture and Permaculture.
Students learn to manage crops in classes such as Organic Crop Production, and through the College Work Program. We use a range of tools–hand hoes, horse drawn implements, tractors, and everything in between–to expose students to the options and choices available to small farmers.
All of our produce finds its way into the Sterling Kitchen or classroom–sometimes raw and fresh, like salads harvested from our hoop house during the cold months; sometimes transformed in classes on Fermentation or Charcuterie, to add variety and preserve our harvest.
The Sterling Farm livestock production system is supported by pastures and three barns to house layers, broilers, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, goats, steers, and hogs. Students are involved in all aspects of livestock management from breeding livestock to delivering meat and eggs to the kitchen. Through coursework such as Animal Science, Grazing Management, and Whole Farm Planning, students help care for, feed, and breed livestock, manage intensive rotational grazing, construct fencing and animal housing, complete health care practices, and participate in financial management of the farm. No matter their major or work program position, all Sterling students help care for livestock by participating in farm chores.
Intensive Rotational Grazing
Students help plan and manage intensive rotational grazing on 17 acres of pasture around the farm. The farm supplies the Sterling kitchen with primarily grass-fed beef, lamb, and goat, and pasture raised poultry and eggs. In the coming year we will be putting up more permanent fencing and efficient watering systems. We will also be pasturing animals in the woods and incorporating them in restorative forestry and land management.
The forested lands owned by Sterling College comprise roughly 393 acres across two locations: 87 acres contiguous with the Colleges’ campus in Craftsbury and 306 acres seven miles away in Bear Swamp all of which is enrolled in the use value appraisal program. All work in the forest is guided by a forest management plan, influenced strongly by the principles of Silviculture, written by a forester, and implemented as part of multiple courses—in fact, during their Sterling experience, every student will utilize the forest as a classroom.
From our management plan, three primary goals guide our forest planning and fieldwork:
- To provide an aesthetically pleasing forest setting, where the College lands can be a land-based laboratory.
- To maintain and enhance habitat for a variety of game and non-game animals
- To grow and harvest forest products to make an income.
Wood resources extracted from the forest during monitored cutting is often utilized by the College for building projects. Within several inter-related courses, the curriculum includes cutting logs, extracting them with draft horses and milling them into useable lumber for building projects on the farm.
Not all the work in the forest involves manipulation; courses in Natural History, Ecology, Soil Science, Wildlife Management and Restoration Agriculture, to name a few, utilize the forest as an active laboratory to observe the forest as a natural system.
A small stand of sugar maples contiguous with Sterling’s land is managed for maple sap production where about 200 trees are tapped annually, the sap is drawn out of the woods by a team of horses and boiled in the Colleges’ sugar house to provide syrup for the kitchen.
Draft Horse Management
(Live Power, care, driving)
Our horse team is trained to work with beginners and can handle multiple drivers. The horses are a common sight around campus and in the town of Craftsbury Common. There are many videos of the Sterling draft horses on our YouTube channel, including the short film Working With Horses.