By: Avery Davis, DCF Student Crew Member

On a balmy August morning, 40 students from Dr. Liz Shapiro-Garza’s Community-Based Environmental Management Class, myself included, took a field trip to the farm to learn how it engages the Duke and Durham community. After a self-guided orientation to the farm (aka aimless wandering among vegetables!) the class gathered under the pavilion, where Assistant Program Manager Emily McGinty shared about the work of the farm. After sharing about the institutional history of Duke Campus Farm, Emily told the stories of the ecological and social history of the land in which the Farm sits. Lying on the tables in front of us were plants grown on the farm: cowpeas, okra, yardlong beans, and brown cotton. Through these plants, Emily shared about the historical communities that cared for the land: the Okoneechee people, slaves, tobacco farmers, and now us. 

For the Duke Campus Farm, two pieces of community are centrally important: honoring the stories of the people who have come before, and honoring the stories of the people who are our neighbors now. “This,” Emily shared, “is what it means to be an accountable member of this place.” This work, of digging deep into history and reaching wide into community, is not a side gig for the farm’s mission -- it is ancillary. Everything at Duke Campus Farm, from the perpetually-unlocked gates, to the bi-weekly community work days, is physically and organizationally structured to reflect a radical openness to all.

Concurrently, we learned the importance of setting boundaries around who is served by the farm. So, while it is in DCF’s mission to engage the community, historically, geographically, and socially, the farm is centrally mandated to serve the Duke Community. Emily shared that, while she would love to be able to host every Girl Scouts group or spring break service crew, for the sake of time resources, the farm team has to set some boundaries that are limited to Duke. While everyone is welcome at community work days, the Duke community remains at the center of the farm’s life.

This tension between the necessity work of outward community engagement, and commitment to institutional mission, is a lesson much-needed for students of Community-Based Environmental Management (CBEM). Environmental issues are local issues affecting local people. While there are global dimensions to some issues, like climate change, the effects are always felt on a local scale. The ability to define a community and set boundaries around that community, while always seeking to push those boundaries, both historically and socially, is central to the work of CBEM. The community-driven, thoughtful work of Duke Campus Farm is a living, growing example of the challenges of this work, and the beauty that follows when it is done well.