The University of the South, a tiny liberal arts university tucked on a 13,000 acres campus in the mountains of Tennessee, is turning their environmental record around - in part thanks to the 100 year old farm they are bringing out of retirement.
In 2007, the University of the South, commonly referred to as Sewanee, became a signatory to the Presidents Climate Commitment. A “D” rating in sustainability forced the University to evaluate it’s environmental commitments and come up with some inventive new plans.
Whatever the reason, the school began implementing environmental policy as tradition. Sewanee now holds an annual EcoHouse contest where the residence halls compete in the Eco-Cup. Akin to the House Cup competition in Harry Potter the halls battle it out to see who is the most energy efficient, without magic.
Sewanee also hosts large scale Zero-waste events like huge campus wide picnics, pledging to send none of the waste generated to landfills. When they added new structures they invested in LEED certified buildings: Spencer Hall has a Silver ranking, and the environmental science headquarters, Snowdon (a redone existing structure), received Gold certification.
Because of these efforts in 2011, the university received a "B" on the College Sustainability Report Card. Continuing the momentum this year they announced the reactivation of the University farm, which had been out of commission for 40 years.
Originally, the farm enclosed more than 1,000 acres for hay, pasture, feedlots, and vegetables. At its peak around 1950, the farm employed more than a dozen people and had more than 20 structures, including a dairy which provided milk, and butter for the University. The farm will produce food for the McClurg Dining Hall, which the university began operating this year so they can serve more locally harvested whole foods. “The goal is to have a fully engaged dining hall,” says McClurg head chef Rick Wright. “I want students to ask what’s in the food. You have to be aware of what you’re doing to yourself.”
The Farm was not reopened after decades just to feed the University. The farm will act as a classroom where students can learn about food production. “Farm manager Gina Raicovich will help students get involved on the farm by teaching labs, offering workshops and creating internships and work-study jobs. ‘I think a lot of students will be attracted to [the farm] for the learning opportunities it provides,’ she says.”
Currently, 100 Universities in the US have operating farms including Stanford and Clemson.