After four years at the College, Organic Garden manager Katherine Creswell is headed off to start her own farm in Oregon. During her tenure at Bowdoin, Creswell has helped the garden grow physically as well as in its importance to the College.

"Four years ago there was not as clear a link between the garden and sustainability efforts," Creswell said. Now, "any time they talk about sustainability they talk about the garden."

Over the past decade, the College's commitment to local foods has grown. The Dining Service currently buys 24 percent of its produce from local farms. Programs like Farm Fresh Connections, which connects Maine farmers with institutions and food buyers, and the garden have contributed to the increase in local foods being offered on campus. Dining Services works with both groups to establish the type and quantity of produce they need. According to Director of Dining & Bookstore Services Mary Lou Kennedy, sticking to a schedule is important because "when you're serving 20,000 meals a week you really need to know you're getting the product you ordered."

Steven Kolberg '09, who interned at the garden last summer, said that the institutional nature of the dining halls sometimes conflicted with the realities of an organic farm. He said that the kitchen is "an efficient machine," and "sometimes it's too much of a pain" to accommodate "a big influx of a lot of produce at once."

When there is excess produce that the dining hall cannot use, it is donated to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program or sold to faculty and staff during the few weeks in August when there are no summer programs on campus. Kolberg wondered if providing training that focuses on accommodating large quantities and unusual types of food, or allowing garden staff to have a farm stand all summer would eliminate "produce dumping," something he saw happen on occasion.

Kolberg would like to see the Dining Service increase its commitment to local foods, and thinks that the garden has "a tremendous amount of potential if it was taken a bit more seriously by the College administration." He cited a greenhouse, more land, or simply hiring more student employees as ways that the garden could play a bigger role in Bowdoin's food supply.

"It doesn't have to be technology," he said.

At the same time, Kolberg wondered if increasing the size of the Garden was the most efficient way to increase the quantity of local foods offered in the dining halls. In his senior environmental studies seminar, "Food and Agriculture," Kolberg and his classmates are working to determine "where you get the most bang for your buck from local foods within that budget." Kolberg said it might be more economically advantageous for the College to shift to purchasing more local Maine produce instead of increasing the garden's size or output.

According to Creswell, "The College has proved to me over and over that [it] supports [the garden] ideologically if not economically." Recent cutbacks in the Garden's budget reflect this sentiment. The new farm manager will not enjoy the same benefits package that Creswell had for two of her four years at the College.

"We don't like it but it makes [economical] sense,"said Kennedy. "When Katherine started she didn't have benefits, either." Creswell expressed concern that the garden manager position is less attractive now, but so far 13 people have applied for the job.

In spite of the absence of benefits, Creswell acknowledged that the garden manager position is unique in the farming world. For normal farmers, "if the crop fails, they don't get paid," but the security of being salaried lets Creswell take risks and experiment with planting in a way she would not have been able to do otherwise.

"I didn't risk any setbacks because I got a wage no matter what," she said. "It's a big safety cushion. That's why this job is fantastic in a lot of ways."

Creswell said that on the whole, the College has increased its support for the garden over the past four years. Bowdoin "is taking pretty major steps to support the program that they weren't doing before," she said.

"There will be a greenhouse that is College-funded in the foreseeable future, and that wasn't the case two years ago," she said. But Creswell was unsure when the greenhouse would be built. Kennedy said that they had not decided where to build, and wanted to wait until the new garden manager was hired before proceeding. "Even if we had the money we wouldn't do it this year," she said.

Kolberg suspected that the current economic situation will stall any budget increases in the near future, and was surprised that the garden's funding hadn't been cut already.

"They are very satisfied with the budget for the garden right now," he said. "The only way to convince them is with serious economic benefits of doing so."

But according to Creswell, the garden already saves money for the Dining Service. According to her, the garden has provided the dining halls with $17,500 in produce value in the past two years—more than they are spending on paying the garden manager for seven months and purchasing seeds, which are the only garden expenses covered by the Dining Service. All other expenses (tools, compost, etc.) are covered by the Student Affairs Funding Committee through the Garden Club. She suspected that a few key investments in the garden, like a greenhouse, could save the College more money. She acknowledged the high up-front cost, but argued that in time it would pay off, especially "if we're producing expensive tender baby greens all winter long."

Because Creswell is the only paid garden employee in the spring and fall, she relies heavily on student volunteers to seed, harvest, and deliver produce to the dining hall.

"The volunteer base has drastically improved since I've been here," she said. She believes there are more students who want to work in the garden because "local organic has become a national topic."

"Four years ago there weren't students approaching me [to volunteer]," she said. According to Kennedy, student applications for the summer intern position have increased as well.

This summer the intern will be working with a new manager, and Creswell will be trying to buy farmland of her own. When asked if she was ready to start her own farm, she replied, "You're never ready, and you can never know everything. But just the fact that I'm motivated enough tells me that I'm ready."

She is not worried about leaving the Bowdoin organic garden, since "there are systems in place for the program to operate smoothly."

"I feel like it can take care of itself," she said.