Divinity School farm sowing seeds

The Yale Divinity School Farm, founded by Andrew Barnett DIV ’12 on what was previously a 2,000-square-foot lawn, is producing its first harvest this year.
The Yale Divinity School Farm, founded by Andrew Barnett DIV ’12 on what was previously a 2,000-square-foot lawn, is producing its first harvest this year. Photo by Carol Hsin.

What was once a 2,000 square-foot lawn in the northeast corner of the Yale Divinity School is now a sustainable garden.

The 35 volunteers at the Yale Divinity School Farm are harvesting the lettuce from their first season of growing, said the farm’s founder, Andrew Barnett DIV ’12 FES ’12. The project is part of the Divinity School’s efforts to include the environment in the study of theology, Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge said.

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“Stewardship of the earth is a fundamental religious obligation,” Attridge said in an e-mail Sunday.

The farm is home to sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, scallions, carrots, herbs and native flowers, among other plants, Barnett said. Divinity School students and dining hall staff members are composting vegetable scraps, which will be used to feed the soil, he said.

Volunteers began planting on the farm in June and added compost bins in November, Barnett said. Barnett and a group of Divinity School students had approached Attridge in March about starting a farm, and the group received funding from Attridge, Divinity School Dean of Students Dale Peterson, the Yale Earthcare Committee (a student group at the Divinity School) and the school’s student council, Barnett said. Divinity School facilities manager Brian Vinci said he advised the students on where to dig so they would not disturb pipes or electrical and telecommunications wires.

The group also received help from organizations outside of the Divinity School. The Urban Resources Initiative, a non-profit organization within the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies supported the farm by encouraging their employees to volunteer on the farm, Barnett said. Yale Farm manager Daniel MacPhee advised the students to build a wall of flowers around the farm to provide a habitat for the birds and bees that pollinate crops.

Though the Divinity School dining hall does not use food from the farm, Barnett said the Berkeley Center at the Divinity School served food from the farm on Wednesday night community dinners following Eucharist services. One dinner, the center used two bushels of basil from the farm to make a giant pot of pesto, Barnett said.

Barnett said the farm will host three outreach workshops in the spring to teach members of the Yale community and beyond how to farm and compost. Rather than talk about sustainability, the workshops will allow people to take action.

“You need targeted advocacy and political leaders, but people are so much more excited to dig their hands into the soil, to plant a seed, to pull a weed [and] to chop into a sun-ripened tomato,” Barnett said.

If the farm is successful, it can be replicated, said local chef and farm volunteer Mike Wenrick, whose wife is a second-year student at the Divinity School. Since many Divinity School graduates will go on to lead religious communities, Wenrick said they can use the skills and insights gained from the farm experience to spread ideas about sustainability.

Though the project’s goals are to equip religious leaders with knowledge and to implement a energy conservation strategy at the Divinity School, Barnett said the larger vision is to transform the oil-fueled, American food system.

“To put one calorie on the American plate takes at least 10 calories of fossil fuel energy,” Barnett said. “We are eating oil.”

Divinity School professor Willis Jenkins said the farm will foster a sense of community at the Divinity School.

“Every time I worked in the garden over the summer, a passerby stopped with a smile and questions,” Jenkins said in an e-mail.

Correction: Jan. 20, 2010

An earlier version of this article misstated the school affiliations of Andrew Barnett DIV ’12 FES ’12. The story also omitted that the Urban Resources Initiative is an organization within the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

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