A Farm-to-Table Movement, Right Here on Campus
Since 2013, Book & Plow Farm has been supplying Valentine dining hall with fresh produce, including carrots, onions, summer squash, kale, mustard greens, tomatoes, bok choi and more. Fostering a thriving community on and off the farm, Book & Plow’s ethos is rooted in community, sustainability and responsibility. Learn more about Book & Plow Farm in our 2013 news story, “Campus Farm Takes Root.”
Transitions at Book & Plow Farm, 2016-2017
Amherst College says a fond farewell (but not goodbye!) to Book & Plow founders Pete Mclean and Tobin Porter-Brown, and welcomes Maida Ives in a new leadership role. Read the following letters from Pete and Tobin, and from Laura Draucker, Sustainability Director, to learn how the Book & Plow will continue to grow in the years ahead.
An Announcement from Pete Mclean and Tobin Porter-Brown, December 2016
If there has been one constant in the last four years of Book & Plow Farm, it has been the unrelenting, unapologizing, unending beauty in the cycle of life. It starts with a seed lying dormant, unrealized and full of potential. With the right support and care, the seed breaks. With sustained care, the plant grows and grows inside its plastic greenhouse tray until its confines are too small. The adolescent plant is then transplanted out into the unprotected climate of the fields. Water supply is irregular and nighttime temperatures fluctuate. Still the plant grows and grows. By the time we harvest a given crop, the fruit of the last 10 weeks has become clear. The plant might continue to fruit, might yield a second flush, and then the plant decays back into the soil to be broken down and to act as fuel for next year’s process. That cycle is repeated every day, every season, every year, since plants have been growing.
In many ways, Book & Plow is going through a similar process. The last four years have seen our independent “farm in residence” start, with no infrastructure nor vegetable production nor student engagement in 2013. Gradually the farm has grown to a 50-acre operation with vegetables, cover crops, livestock, greenhouses, barns, tractors, students, events and community. This development was a real achievement, and a lot of people have rallied to make this dream a reality. We are calling this B&P 1.0.
It’s time for the next phase in the life cycle. We (Tobin and Pete) are both leaving our farm. The Book & Plow name will carry on and the farm will continue to flourish in the capable hands of Maida Ives and under the wing of Amherst College. Maida has been our assistant manager the past two seasons and is very excited to step up to lead the farm into its next iteration.
The reason for these latest developments are many. Our farm had reached an adolescence that required several important decisions regarding its future, and what these decisions really boiled down to were how to balance priorities. Should the emphasis be on wholesale production—on growing larger and building more infrastructure—or should it scale back and refocus on the needs of Amherst College dining, supporting a local CSA and engaging with the students and community. Achieving this balance was a challenge, and the severe drought this summer exposed how susceptible the farm is to climate extremes.
Tobin has decided to move to Vermont, to work the soil near Craftsbury. This coming year, he will be working at a large (300-acre) organic, diversified, four-season vegetable farm called Pete’s Greens. He’s committed to consulting and advising the College to ensure the transition of Book & Plow runs as smoothly as possible into its next phase of growth.
Pete is staying in Amherst and will also be advising the College through the Book & Plow Farm transition. Furthermore, Pete will be working as an independent consultant and has offered his services to Amherst College Student Affairs, Student Activities and others as a program designer, facilitator, counselor and coach to individuals, groups, teams and organizations looking to achieve a goal, produce outcomes or actualize a transformation throughout the Pioneer Valley.
This is not the end of Book & Plow Farm. This is the start of its next season, and a transition to B&P 2.0. There will be work-study students, summer interns, new student orientation, events, volunteer days, produce in Valentine Dining Hall and a community CSA.
A huge and open-hearted thank you to all the people who gave their time and talents to make Book & Plow Farm what it has become over the years. There’s no way we could have done this without you.
For Book & Plow Farm,
Pete Mclean & Tobin Porter-Brown
Transitioning to Book & Plow 2.0
A Letter from Laura Draucker and Maida Ives
In four short years, Book & Plow farm went from a student idea to a thriving working independent “farm in residence” that provided produce to our community and created a sought-after community space to grow and foster relationships both on and off the land. This would not have been possible without the vision, dedication and leadership of Tobin Porter-Brown and Pete Mclean. We are grateful to Tobin and Pete for the time they have spent cultivating Book & Plow, both figuratively and literally, and we are looking forward to growing their legacy through the next chapter of Book & Plow.
When we began to reflect on that next chapter, we knew we wanted to build upon the successes and learn from the challenges of the first iteration of the farm. Key to that process is engaging different campus constituents on how Book & Plow can further support its goals. We also knew that we did not want this process to interrupt the planting, harvesting and student engagement on the farm that have become an integral part of our community. Therefore, we have divided the next chapter of Book & Plow into two phases, the first being a transition farm that will operate through 2017.
The transition farm will scale back by focusing on growing produce for Valentine Dining Hall and our community through a small farm market or CSA. However, the transitional Book & Plow will still have a pick-your-own garden and employee student workers during the school year and summer months. It will offer volunteer opportunities for teams, dorms and departments, and it will host student programs run through the Student Affairs office. Therefore, students and community members who have been engaged with the farm in the past should notice little difference in the way the farm will operate into the next growing season. We are thrilled that Maida Ives, current assistant farm manager at Book & Plow, has agreed to serve as farm manager for this transitional period. In addition to two years at Book & Plow, Maida has nearly ten years of combined experience in teaching and farming in New England, Virginia, Mexico and South America, as well as a master of education and a bachelor’s in environmental studies from Brooklyn College and Bard College, respectively. She has enjoyed combining farming and education at Book & Plow and looks forward to continuing this in the coming year. Additionally, we are grateful that both Tobin and Pete have offered to support the transition in varied capacities over the coming months.
Concurrently with next year’s operation of the transition farm, we will begin a planning process to engage with the campus on the next chapter of Book & Plow. We are excited by the opportunity to build upon all that made Book & Plow 1.0 great. Our goal will be to conduct this process during the coming spring semester and finalize our plans during the fall, so that by January 2018 we can embark on Book & Plow 2.0. Please stay tuned for more information on this process, and feel free to contact Laura Draucker or Maida Ives if you have any initial thoughts or feedback.