South Jersey Climate News

South Jersey Climate News

South Jersey Climate News

Sowing the seeds of environmental and food justice
Issac Linsk, Staff Writer • May 23, 2024

Rowan University West Campus Farm provides tons of fresh produce for campus, food banks and… hot sauce!

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Brendan Birmingham joins Kristian Szymanski and Eva Sanko, the other student farmers, standing in front of the tomato tents. (Gianna Malgieri / The Whit)

How does the president of the university have time to tend to so many tasks and still have such a strong hand in the thousands of pounds of produce that are used to feed the community and fuel the hot sauce business? The West Campus Farm is home to all of President Houshmand’s seedlings which serve Rowan and communities surrounding with free, fresh, student-picked produce.

“I see anything that grows, anything that is life, I respect. I love, I love life of any sort and I see plants the same way. You know, I go in there sometimes, I’ve got hundreds of hundreds of plants. So who cares about one that is dying? But I do. Because it’s a baby to me. I hate to see that little one [dying] for whatever reason,” said President Houshmand.

In addition to President Houshmand’s at-home seedling nursery, the farm wouldn’t be as fluid with produce if it wasn’t for the students who spend their early mornings and weekends on the estimated two acres of grounds.

Brendan Bermingham, a GIS and environmental and sustainability studies major, spends about nine to 12 hours on the farm per week alongside other student farmers.

“Dr. Houshmand puts [the seeds] in the seed trays… with every single seed… he keeps those at his house and he babies all the plants until they’re little seedlings then he brings them into this greenhouse,” said Bermingham. “All the plants go through him.”

In President Houshmand’s basement, there’s a sub kitchen with a long table where the 90-slot seed tray rests while fluorescent lights spread across the seed nursery from clothing hangers up above.

“I water them two, three, four times a day. Early in the morning before I go to work, lunchtime, or afternoon, before I go to bed, and I water them and heat them and keep them at temperature and suddenly you see these things pop up,” said President Houshmand.

He compared his mindset on the farm to that of when he ran marathons. Houshmand shared that the therapeutic aspects yield a free mind that allows him to think about other responsibilities.

“Time and effort and work is a state of mind. If you have full concentration on what you do and full passion, you really don’t need to spend tons of time to do something… And that’s when your creativity really shines because all of your energy, all of your brain is concentrated on that area,” said President Houshmand. “Once you realize that everything has a solution, it’s easy… So logical thinking and having patience and being persistent… I think the connectivity between heart and mind is critical. If you do that, then you really, you can do tons of stuff.”

This summer, thousands of pounds of produce was harvested and distributed. Just last weekend, they collected about 200 melons equaling around 1,100 pounds.

“So far this summer, we’ve picked a little over 11,000 pounds. So each week, I would say we deliver about 1,000 pounds,” said Bermingham.

Rain or shine, produce is picked to supply one of several local organizations that try to combat food inequality.

“Everything we picked today goes to one food pantry, everything we pick on Thursdays goes to Philabundance and Saturdays goes to the Boys and Girls Club. So, if there’s ever a day we don’t pick, someone might not get their usual delivery from us,” said Bermingham. “As long as it’s not like life-threatening rain, I try to get out here.”

Continue reading the full story at The Whit Online.

This article originally appeared in the The Whit, a student-operated campus news outlet for Rowan University and a content partner with South Jersey Climate News.

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