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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Q & A with Dickinson College Organic Farm

Feb 28, 2021 09:09PM ● By Dave Korba

Natural Awakenings recently connected with Matt Steiman, Special Projects Manager and Jenn Halpin, Director, of the Dickinson College Organic Farm in Carlisle, to find out about the regenerative and sustainable farming efforts implemented by the farm.


Following is an in-depth overview of their efforts in a Question & Answer format:


1.) Describe how Dickinson’s College Farm approaches farming and what the USDA-certified organic designation means?

At the Dickinson College Farm, we aspire to cultivate and implement holistic approaches to land management with care and respect for natural resources and processes. The certified organic designation provides our farm with a system of accountability and reflects a set of principles that seeks to provide customers with a level of confidence in our farming practices. The organic certification is one way that our farm can express its values, but we work to go beyond the parameters of the USDA certification through field-based research and tinkering, often including students and faculty at Dickinson College.


2.) How is the farm regenerative and sustainable?

I believe that the terms "regenerative" and "sustainable" reflect the intention of continual improvement and to conserve resources by working with, rather than against nature.  As we know, agriculture is not necessarily a natural process; we manipulate the natural environment in order to grow non-native food crops. With this in mind, efforts to minimize ecological impacts at the College Farm include no-till systems within our vegetable operation, adapting techniques and tools developed by The Rodale Institute; to integrate our livestock in an extended vegetable crop rotation in order to build soil fertility with manures; planting native tree species in our pastures to explore the efficacy of silvopasture; and collecting all of the food waste generated on campus to  use toward the production of compost and biogas.  Finished compost is used as a soil amendment on our fields while biogas serves as an alternative source of cooking fuel and soon, a renewable source of electricity at the farm.

3.) Tell how future generations are learning about sustainable farming through the College Farm and farm programs.

Students are integral to the success of the College Farm – whether through paid positions assisting with the daily needs of our livestock and vegetable operations or as academic interns engaged in farm-based research. Students help us expand the scope of our program through their ideas and innovations. In fact, our farm would not have 60 acres of pasture to support its grass-based livestock operation if it weren't for a student's interest in exploring grass-fed meat as a farm enterprise.  There are many aspects of our farm program that have been initiated by students and proven quite beneficial to our overall mission. In many respects, the College Farm provides students with a space where they can develop ideas learned in class. One example of this is the College Farm's youth education programs, Sustainable Earth Education (SEED) and Farm, Cook Eat. These K-12 youth programs were put into motion by students and have remained active educational programs for area schools and youth groups for almost ten years, providing Dickinson College students with opportunities to develop professional skill sets as environmental educators.

4.) Who participates in the CSA? (College students/families, local community members, etc.)

We have operated our Campus Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for close to 15 years; starting before the farm at a 1/2-acre garden. As our access to land grew, so did our membership. Currently, our CSA program supports 135 members made up of college faculty, staff, students, alumni, and retirees. We chose to limit the scope of our CSA membership to the Dickinson College community to minimize competition with fellow CSA farms in the area. While the College Farm is a revenue-generating program, we acknowledge the institutional support that helps offset some of the pressures for-profit farmers experience. It is because of this support that the College Farm is able to fully integrate educational opportunities into its production farm operation.


5.) How does Dickinson’s College Farm inspire healthy eating on campus?

A large portion of the produce that we raise at the farm is sold to the Dickinson dining hall. We collaborate with chefs and staff at the dining hall to outline our crop plan each year in order to meet their ingredient needs during our production season. The dining hall menus are created with input from staff, students, and nutritionists to reflect healthy options. At the farm, we do our best to ensure that the crops we grow are nutritionally dense.  Outside of the dining hall, students have the option to barter labor for veggies at the College Farm, whether as volunteers or as CSA members. Recognizing that not all students have an interest in bartering labor for veggies, the College Farm has developed campus-based programs aimed at better connecting the campus community with agricultural resources in the Cumberland Valley. Both programs are pop-up events, one serving pizza and the other a 4-course fine dining experience. Healthy eating is one component of these programs. However, they also aspire to get students to think about where their food comes from and to understand how flavorful seasonal eating can be.

6.) Please share any other points that are important to the College Farm mission.

  • We are a hands-on education facility that grows food to feed our community.

  • Community members can try our pizza, as well as purchase vegetables from us at Farmers on the Square, located in Carlisle.

  • The College Farm is integral to Dickinson College's commitment to sustainability. Not only in that we raise vegetables for campus eateries and divert food waste from the landfill but also the many renewable energy projects at the farm. In addition to our expanding biogas operation (a whole other story if you are interested!!) we also have many solar arrays and the capacity to convert waste vegetable oil into a fuel, aka biodiesel.

  • The College Farm plays an integral role in the college's recently launched Food Studies Certificate program.

  • With support from The Burpee Foundation, The College Farm has initiated a home gardening initiative within the borough of Carlisle to assist residents with starting home gardens as a way to minimize food insecurity and maximize dietary diversity.


Jenn Halpin is the Director of the Dickinson College Farm. After graduating from Providence College, she joined the Peace Corps where she developed her interest in sustainable agriculture while living in West Africa and working with farmers. As the farm manager, Jenn provides students with hands-on training in sustainable food production and supports faculty and students with on-going research, class-based collaborations and internships. Jenn served as the President of the Board of Directors for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). She is an active member in our regional local food movement and founding member of Farmers on the Square, a vibrant producer-only farmers’ market in Carlisle. 


Matt Steiman has farmed organic vegetables since 1993 – working on farms in Colorado, California and Minnesota, before settling in the Cumberland Valley. For five seasons, Matt managed Fulton Farm at Wilson College where he learned the ropes of running an educational CSA program, and also developed initial experience with renewable energy systems. Matt and Jenn then ran their own farm on rented ground for two seasons before signing on as the full-time farmers at Dickinson College in 2007. In addition to regular farm duties at the Dickinson Farm, Matt supervises equipment maintenance, irrigation, sheep and cattle, and also works extensively with solar energy projects and biodiesel fuel applications for the College.


The Dickinson College Organic Farm’s Mission is to inspire responsible land stewardship through study of the earth’s natural processes and demonstrate the science, practice and culture of sustainable food production.