Farm Is Newest Allston Notion

A sustainable farm joins driving range and daycare facility as potential projects

A sustainable farm is the newest idea to sprout up in discussions about how the University will develop its vast holdings across the river.

Advocates of the farm, who say it would connect students to the land while producing food in a resource-conserving and environmentally sound manner, join a long list of groups jockeying for space in Allston. Other proposals have included a driving range, a daycare facility for Harvard affiliates, and a student center.

Harvard spokeswoman Lauren Marshall confirmed that the Allston Development Group has entertained discussions about a sustainable farm in the area, but said in a statement that the idea was “still in the concept phase.”

Over the weekend, the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) released a poll intended to gauge student interest in sustainability in Allston. The questionnaire circulated over several e-mail list servs, including open lists for the EAC, the Institute of Politics, Pforzheimer House, and the Phillips Brooks House Association. The results are set to be released on May 30.

In the two-minute poll, students are asked if they would be willing to make donations to fund the proposed farm and if they would spend time there.

Yale has operated a one-acre sustainable farm since May 2003, which attracts approximately 200 student volunteers, according to Laura Hess, who petitioned to start the project before she graduated in 2006. Yale sells its produce at local farmers’ markets and to local restaurants.

Elizabeth R. Shope ’09, the co-chair of the Sustainable Allston subcommittee who is spearheading the project, declined to comment yesterday, saying that she did not want to jeopardize the farm with premature publicity.

But in a promotional video posted in December on an environmental blog, Shope said that a sustainable farm would be a good way to connect undergraduates to their environment.

“Students are often very out of touch with the land,” she says in the video, which includes interviews with faculty and students, as well as a vocal tribute to the project. “And building a farm in an urban community could be a model for other schools to potentially follow.”

And according to the members of the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment interviewed in the video, a sustainable farm will prepare students for the future of agriculture.

“We need to start preparing our students and our faculty to embrace and foster the kind of transition that we think we’re seeing, and be ready to know how to grow food locally and in urban setting,” Assistant Director Kathleen Frith says in the video.

Frith and the center’s director, 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner Eric Chivian, who have been working on the proposal, declined to comment yesterday.

But though the seeds for the farm have been sown, EAC Chair Spring Greeney ’09, who e-mailed the initial link to the poll, acknowledged that it was still unclear whether undergraduates would be able to reap the benefits.

“The farm project, as far as I understand it, is still really, really speculative, as is much of what is going on in Allston,” she said. “They don’t have any concrete plans because the farm is still so far off in the future, if anything where to happen with it.”