Redesign Brings New Look to the Haverfarm
A critter-proof fence, reconfigured community plots, and sustainable strategies all figure into the Haverfarm’s winter rejuvenation plans.
Given its arboretum context and friendly, accessible nature, it’s no surprise that community gardening is deeply intertwined with Haverford’s history. From the plots assigned to the college’s earliest students to a landscape replete with victory gardens during World War II, gardeners tilling the soil and harvesting vegetables and flowers have always been regular sights on campus.
That tradition continues today at the Haverfarm and its community gardens, where gardeners embrace their love of horticulture and bequeath their acquaintances with armloads of produce. A comprehensive redesign of the agrarian endeavor is now underway to make gardening even more accessible and bountiful. The work is made possible through financial support from the Committee for Environmental Responsibility, the Arboretum and its donors, and the Haverfarm’s budget. It will begin immediately after the growing season ends Nov. 30, says Arboretum Director Claudia Kent, and will be completed before the spring season begins.
Since its inception, an inadequate fence has surrounded the farm’s site, where a temporary parking lot was constructed to accommodate golf fans who flocked to Merion Golf Club in Ardmore when it hosted the U.S. Open in 2013. The primary thrust of the redesign work this winter will replace the current fencing with a new and attractive six-foot fence with multiple access gates that will help keep pesky critters—principally deer and rabbits—from nibbling on the irresistible tender plants within. The new fencing will stretch a bit farther than the current configuration, increasing Haverfarm’s growing operation significantly, says Haverfarm Manager Cassandra Brown.
Within the primary fencing, a patchwork system of gardener-built fences has sprung up as an extra layer of protection from hungry animals. Those will be removed, Brown says, and replaced by a network of “living” pathways featuring creeping thyme and grasses that can be easily mowed and maintained.
“So now we’ll have a great fence at last and will gain some more space,” Brown says. “Community gardeners will no longer be responsible for their own fencing, which can be a barrier to entry. It will also just make everything more visually appealing and create a greater sense of community.”
The grounds also contain the Arboretum’s nursery, which often nurtures young varieties of rare species before they’re planted on campus. The redesign will also allow the nursery to double in size and bolster the Arboretum’s growing capacity.
Under the plan, 18 existing community garden plots, which vary slightly in size but top out at a robust 1,200 square feet, will be divided into 36 more manageable spaces. They’ll be available on a sliding scale, costing gardeners between $35 and $50 per season. Between the hard labor of conditioning the soil and the time commitments required for weeding, watering, and harvesting, a 20-foot by 60-foot plot can be a daunting challenge for any experienced gardener, let alone neophytes, Kent says, and this approach should help make growing one's own food more manageable.
“We really want to invite people in, and we don’t want to overwhelm them,” Kent adds. “That’s always been the mission of the Haverfarm and the Arboretum, to reach out and bring people in.”
The community plots and the Haverfarm’s programming have been an important source of community building and learning on campus since its founding. Just ask Assistant Professor of Biology Foen Peng, who turned to the Haverfarm as a source of entertainment and activity for his farmer parents when they traveled from China to Haverford to spend last spring and summer with Peng and his family. The Haverfarm’s community plots were the perfect fit, though there was certainly an adjustment period for the experienced growers.
“It was their first time growing something outside of my hometown,” Peng says. “It’s a different climate, the soil is different, the pests are different. Everything is different.”
While it took a bit of trial and error before Peng’s parents adjusted to Pennsylvania’s temperate conditions—Hunan Province is subtropical—their constant efforts resulted in an abundance of vegetables: peppers, eggplant, luffa, cucumbers, and much more. And despite the fact that neither of his parents speaks English, they still formed close connections with their fellow community gardeners during their thrice-daily visits to the garden. Today, Peng continues to maintain the plot and visits frequently with his three-year-old son in tow.
“It’s such a great benefit,” Peng says of the garden. “We haven’t bought vegetables for a few months. Not only are we self-sustaining, we also have a lot of extra produce to share.” The act of sharing produce, he adds, is a bridge to new friendships, providing just as much of a social boon as an economic one.
The final stages of the redesign will also reinforce the College’s commitment to sustainability. There are plans to install a pilot in-vessel composting system at the Haverfarm in the coming months. As a new counterpart to Munchy Crunchy, Grinds Up Your Lunchy, the lovingly named aerobic digester in the Dining Center, the system will divert food waste generated at the Haverford College Apartments (HCA) and further reduce the College’s organic waste stream and its negative impact on the environment. In addition, a lengthy swale will be installed along the north side of the farm to capture stormwater runoff from the neighboring athletic fields.
For more information on the Haverfarm and garden plot availability, fill out our Community Gardens Interest Form.