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Miller Farm Closes Temporarily as Program is Evaluated

August 20, 2013

As part of Earlham College's ongoing improvements and assessment of student housing arrangements, a review of Miller Farm (in August) identified significant safety concerns on the property including structural issues with several of the outbuildings. Addressing these needs during the academic year would have disrupted the residents significantly and created additional hazards for the students and other community visitors to the farm. After careful consideration, it was decided that the best course of action was to move Miller Farm residents to the main campus and to suspend most activities at the farm until these issues have been more thoroughly evaluated and addressed.

Clearly, this decision was a significant disappointment for the students planning to live at Miller Farm this year. We want to be clear, however, that this is not the end of small-scale agriculture at Earlham. Direct, hands-on experience in environmental education and sustainability will continue to be a part of Earlham’s educational offerings. Miller Farm has been a cherished part of many students' experience at Earlham over the last several decades. And, as we continue our work in enhancing sustainability efforts on campus, agriculture and food systems are a significant part of that effort both now and into the foreseeable future.

This short-term setback gives the College an opportunity to have a deeper discussion about the long-term goals and objectives of farming projects within Earlham's educational mission. The Sustainability Advisory Committee has been asked by President David Dawson to study this issue and make recommendations by the end of the semester about how we might proceed. We invite alumni, students, faculty and staff to engage with the work of the task force, and you should expect to hear from this group soon about various avenues to have your voice heard.

Earlham remains committed to ensuring a safe, supportive and educationally effective residential experience for all students. While the current situation at Miller Farm is a disappointment, we are confident that a stronger and more institutionally sustainable approach to small-scale agriculture will emerge from this process.

At this time, the College is not ready to solicit gifts until we know more about the needs of the program. We sincerely appreciate offers of support from the Earlham community, which shows how much these experiences have meant to alumni and students. The College website will be updated with more information as we engage in a planning process and determine next steps.

Miller Farm FAQ's

Is the farm shutting down forever?

There has not been a decision to shut down the farm. The residential aspect and most activities have been closed for the current academic year because of structural safety issues with several buildings on the farm property. We are eager to use this time to plan for a better future for farming and sustainable agriculture education at Earlham.

Does this have to do with septic system problems?

No, the septic system at the farm was replaced last fall. The structural issues have to do with the outbuildings on the property and were deemed significant safety issues by an insurance inspection in August.

Has funding from sustainability grants held by the college been used for farming?

The college has supported activities at Miller Farm via grant funds through the Sustainability Office for the past two years. These funds have been used for summer internship programs at Miller Farm: the planting of a new orchard, travel by interested students to farming conferences, and several student-initiated farm improvement projects.

What will happen next?

The Sustainability Advisory Committee will form a sub-group or task force to study the options for moving forward with a healthy, positive sustainable agriculture program. This task force will be formed in the next couple of weeks and will include Sustainability Advisory Committee members, Miller Farm alumni, stakeholders and students. The committee will gather as much input and information that it can to make carefully researched recommendations for next steps.

How can I share my input?

The task force will use social media and e-mail channels to solicit input from alumni, students and community members as they study Miller Farm and sustainable agriculture programming options. Expect to hear from the task force in the next month with requests for input.

What about the Miller Farm house itself?

The house also faces the usual and routine needs, both large and small, that any aging facility needs in response to high occupancy. Our hope is that the Sustainability Advisory Committee will think creatively, and consider the farm as a whole, rather than discrete buildings or activities. Larger questions for the committee will be analyzing the programmatic needs of experiential, small-scale agriculture at Earlham and evaluation of the best use of the house to support those goals. 

What if I have more questions?

Feel free to e-mail Sarah Waddle, Sustainability Coordinator for the college, at srwaddle08@earlham.edu. She will answer, or direct you to someone who can.

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