History of the Farm

The Duke Campus Farm is a one-acre, working farm dedicated to catalyzing positive change in the ways we grow, eat, and think about food. By using sustainable methods to grow fruits and vegetables, we provide a living laboratory for all things food-related at Duke. 

In Spring 2010, Dr. Charlotte Clark of the Nicholas School of the Environment taught a “Food and Energy” survey course. Student teams adopted client projects focused on various topical areas. One group of students led by founding farm manager (then-student) Emily Sloss partnered with the Duke Forest to answer the question “Could Duke have a campus farm?” The students scoped sites, interviewed campus and community stakeholders, and produced a feasibility study that soon grew into the early business and site plan for the Duke Campus Farm. November 2010 marked the beginning of a one-year, one-acre pilot project, when students (including Emily McGinty) and supporting staff, faculty, and community members broke ground to plant a winter cover crop. The first spring harvest took place in April 2011. In August 2011, the first full-time farm manager (Sloss) was hired, supported by Sustainable Duke and Duke Dining. An additional full-time Farm Fellowship position was created in 2012 with funding from The Duke Endowment. In its first few years, the campus farm focused on selling produce to Duke Dining, creating a 20-30 share CSA program in the summer seasons, and hosting hands-on educational workshops (i.e. canning and preserving, corn genetics and politics, mushroom inoculation) in addition to hosting various academic classes for tours and visits. 

A major leadership transition and strategic planning exercise in spring 2014 brought the farm into a new era. Saskia Cornes, having wrapped up a Phd in Literature at Columbia University and an agroecology certificate at UC Santa Cruz, arrived at DCF and immediately began to build more robust farm systems and academic connections and collaborations to ensure the farm was not only producing high-quality produce, but that it aligned firmly with the University’s core mission: to educate students. 

DCF’s grant-funded farm fellowship turned into a full-time university-funded position in fall 2015, bringing the University-supported, full-time, staff total to 2 including a farm manager/program director and an assistant program manager (Emily McGinty). In an effort to ensure that a vibrant, well-run growing space remained at the heart of DCF’s educational programs, DCF staff created a two-year Production Manager position (Luke Howerter, now at Ten Mothers Farm) in Spring 2016. In Spring 2018, we transitioned this position to a Field Education Manager position (Leslie Wolverton), which encompasses the responsibilities of a Production Manager with additional on-farm education responsibilities. In Spring 2019, we hired our first Program Assistant (Melissa Keeney) to support our growing programming and share our mission and vision with a broader community. The farm now operates with four full-time staff and up to 11 student crew members. The farm has expanded its CSA to 100 members annually, offerings and is building new relationships with food vendors on campus. Program staff continue to work hard developing new curriculum and collaborations across many university institutes, programs, and departments. 

Explore more history of the land we are on through this Esri Story Map