Left to right: Associate Professor of Biology Liza Conrad, President Fernández, Farm Manager Jon Prieto, Director of Sustainability Evan Bollier ’11. Photo: Angelique Herring ’19
As Eckerd College President Damián J. Fernández, Ph.D., shoveled dirt onto the roots of a mamey sapling freshly placed in the soil of the Eckerd College Community Farm, an intimate gathering of students, faculty and staff looked on.
“The seed we are planting here today is a Mammea given to me by our [Spanish] faculty when I first arrived at Eckerd,” Fernández told those gathered at the farm’s official groundbreaking on Oct. 15. “In Cuba we have a saying [that translates to] ‘The moment of truth is here.’ This is a part of our truth, and I’m so delighted to share in this work with you.”
Fernández joined the Eckerd College Community Farm Committee—Director of Sustainability Evan Bollier ’11; Associate Professor of Biology Liza Conrad, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of History Adam Guerin, Ph.D.; Environmental Studies Instructor and Internship Coordinator David Himmelfarb, Ph.D.; Farm Manager Jon Prieto; and students Aaron Chimelis ’23 and Colby Stratman ’24—for the planting of a tree grown from those seeds fostered by Information Technology Services Office Coordinator Anna Molina-Lense, who was also present with her family.
The ceremony celebrated the work ahead on a liberal arts farm 11 years in the making.
The 1-acre plot in between the Johnson Athletic Field and the baseball diamond was first co-opted by the Eckerd College Garden Club in 2010 with a vision of turning the space into a learning ground for novices to gain information about and experience with sustainable agriculture. Club members created raised beds, planted banana and mango trees, started a composting program, filled plots with anything that would grow in the Florida climate and watched the results. Bountiful crops were shared with their classmates during the academic year and left untended during the summer months.
“We would not be here if not for the vision and support of this entire Eckerd community and, specifically, the students of the garden who started this project over 10 years ago and have been working here ever since,” Bollier told the gathered crowd. “Through the power of Kaizen, improving this area and program a little bit at a time—slowly but surely, truly the Eckerd way—we are here today for this ceremony.”
Bollier says the fully functioning, year-round liberal arts farm was always the dream, but it would take research and support from the College beyond Garden Club allocations from the student government. He researched liberal arts farms across the country and found that the most successful and sustainable models had a full-time farm manager to coordinate the academic work with the volunteer labor required to make the place run. Fernández threw his support behind the farm project when he joined the community in July 2020, and by July 2021, Prieto had begun his work as the new farm manager.
With generous donations to the President’s Innovation Fund from Eckerd College Board of Trustees Chair Ian Johnson ’89 and his wife, Maureen, and Board member John Saunders ’71, and his wife, Eden, the farm budget was created to pay Prieto’s salary and make major equipment, supply and irrigation acquisitions over the next three years. Faculty will also utilize the farm operations for courses ranging from biology to theatre.
“When Dr. Fernández joined us 18 months ago, he moved us forward,” Conrad recalled during the ceremony as she introduced the president. “We gave a presentation to the Board of Trustees, and he said my favorite words: ‘You’ve got the green light.’”