During a normal summer on the Allegheny College campus, work-study students would be busily tending to the lush and productive organic garden adjacent to Carr Hall, known as the Carrden. But in summer 2020 — with almost no students on campus — the daily tasks of pruning, weeding and harvesting have fallen on Kerstin Ams, the garden manager.
“It’s been mostly me,” says Ams, “although there have been a few guest volunteer appearances from a few faculty and staff. Overall, it’s been a quiet summer.”
As usual, there is a variety of vegetables and fruits, from tomatoes and peppers to watermelon and celery. Students in Ams’ Small-scale Production Agriculture (ENVSC 240) class last fall chose each of the crops and varieties to grow this summer based on a range of factors, including the northwest Pennsylvania climate, crop rotation needs, interest from dining-services provider Parkhurst and the needs of the Mobile Market last year.
“I did make a few changes early this summer so that some of the crops would be easier to maintain and harvest by one person instead of our usual crew of students, but for the most part, what you see in the garden was planned by the students,” says Ams.
There aren’t any crops new to the garden this year, says Ams, “but we haven’t grown leeks in about six years, so that is a returning ‘new’ one. Mostly we have new varieties of the same crops — we have a corn variety called Striped Japonica that has bright pink stripes in the leaves; two different ground cherry varieties, and a sunflower called ‘Teddy Bear’ that’s just starting to bloom with fuzzy-looking yellow petals.”
Although it’s still early in the harvesting season, Ams has been gathering garlic and carrots, as well as raspberries, and as late July rolls around, the jalapeno peppers are starting to pop. Also, it’s been a relatively hot and dry season in Meadville so far, and that has helped the heat-loving crops like eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and squash. “We use drip irrigation on some beds, so that helps with watering when needed. Overall it’s been pretty good,” says Ams.
Most of the harvest is going to Parkhurst. “They are still making meals for the remaining students on campus and have provided boxed lunches for some of the staff. I’ve also explored a few options for donating produce in town if we have more than Parkhurst can use,” says Ams. “Some of the last-minute adjustments I made to the crop plan also included pushing some planting further into the summer so that more of the harvest would come in August and September this year,” when students are anticipated to be back on campus, she says.
“The spontaneity of Kerstin’s produce is sometimes the highlight of my day at Allegheny,” says Charles Wise, Parkhurst’s executive chef. “I worked many years in the San Francisco Bay area in restaurants that applauded the diligence and the efforts of our local farmers and gardeners so that we could offer great fresh food to our customers. The students and faculty of Allegheny College should be so proud to have the offerings Kerstin can bring from the garden on a regular basis, season permitting.”
The Mobile Market bus that traditionally brings fresh produce to Meadville residents has been idled this summer and is even undergoing some repairs, Ams says.
A national organization in 2019 certified that produce coming from the Carrden is grown without pesticides and herbicides and meets all organic agriculture standards. Certified Naturally Grown is a national group that offers peer-review certification to farmers and beekeepers producing food for their local communities by working in harmony with nature and without relying on synthetic chemicals or GMOs.