Bennington’s Agricultural Past, Present, and…?

A lot of students at Bennington are interested in agriculture, and the various ways that agriculture connects to other systems within our society. In the last few years, this has been in evidence in the proliferation of courses addressing food and agriculture. Agroecology, The Natural History of Food and Farming, Population, Food, and Farm, and the Philosophy of Home, Food, and Gardens are just some of the courses offered on this topic recently. Beyond its courses, however, Bennington College has a long history of agricultural activities on campus. In recent weeks I have been mulling over that history, since encountering a series of campus land-use maps thanks to faculty member Kerry Woods. Created by former science faculty Robert Woodworth and his students, the maps explore how the campus has changed in design and landscape over the years.

The campus is set on the site of the former Jennings family North Bennington estate, whose kitchen gardens, fields, and pastures surrounded the early college. Evidence of this heritage is everywhere you look on campus today. The “secret” walled garden in the Orchard (now faculty housing) served as a vegetable garden for the Jennings family, the Barn once housed dairy cows, and if you do some exploring behind Jennings music building (the former estate house), you will find the remains of formal flower gardens.

This week, the Bennington website highlights the College’s “War Farm”—victory gardens spread throughout the Bennington campus during World War II.  During the years the farm operated, it was an active part of a Bennington student’s experience.  When crops needed to be harvested,  “farm days” were announced and classes would be cancelled so everyone could work the rows and fields instead.  In addition to corn, oats, potatoes and piles of vegetables, the students, staff, and faculty also raised chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle.

Close to the heart of campus, behind Dickinson and the new houses, you see the Bennington Community Garden.  Here, students, staff, and faculty members can request a plot to grow to their heart’s content. According to Kerry Woods, who coordinates the garden, the College has had a community garden for 25 years. The Community Garden is also the location of the recently initiated student organic garden, created by the Bennington Sustainable Food Group, a student organization. Students involved in this garden produce food for themselves, a local shelter, and also work with DREAM, a mentoring organization for local youth.  You can keep updated on all their goings-on here on their blog.

This Polymeadows Farm goat enjoys a welcome chin scratch from a Bennington student on the 2010 Localvore Pre-Orientation trip.

Food and agriculture have always had a presence at Bennington College, from its humble beginnings on a corner of the Jennings estate and the War Farm to a College CSA in the the 1990s and the current efforts of the Bennington Sustainable Food Group and the student garden. What does the future hold for food and agriculture at Bennington College? Let’s hear your ideas!





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