On the corner of Alder Street and 14th Avenue on the Ellensburg campus, the Wildcat Neighborhood Farm staff is busy growing a bounty of healthy and delicious fruits and vegetables.
Established in 2019, the farm provides fresh, seasonal produce that is served in dining facilities across campus. It grows a wide variety of produce, from staples like green onions and cucumbers, to more specialized produce like okra, heirloom tomatoes, and Washington state heirloom squash.
The farm also includes a community garden, where students and residents can sign up to take care of their own plot for a season.
While most of the farm’s vegetables are delivered to CWU Dining Services for on-campus dining, some are served by 1891 Catering, the newly refreshed CWU catering program. Any surplus produce is donated to local food pantries, including the student-run Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) pantries on campus.
Farm manager Kate Doughty has chosen to employ organic practices on the farm—specifically by following sound ecological practices that are gentler on the land and use fewer resources that limit the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These practices include crop rotation, composting, and planting cover crops.
“The practices we employ naturally follow organic program standards, because we work from a ‘soil first’ approach,” Doughty says. “Soil health is our priority, and our methods are designed to support the thriving biotic communities under our feet.”
Housed within Auxiliary Enterprises, the Wildcat Neighborhood Farm also serves as a sustainability center and outdoor classroom, giving students and faculty an opportunity to complete hands-on research projects.
“Working with students is one of my favorite parts of this work,” Doughty says. “I encourage student projects and research as much as possible.”
For example, a student researched and built worm bins for composting on the farm, taking many factors into consideration when developing the design. Another ongoing student research project is looking at ways to increase accessibility in the community garden that will result in the construction of accommodated garden beds.
Every aspect of the farm’s operations considers how resources are used, with a goal of reducing its carbon footprint whenever possible to grow produce more sustainably. Even the selection of seeds is purposeful: Doughty makes a concerted effort to source seeds from the Pacific Northwest, searching for unique crop varieties to introduce to Dining Services’ program.
The program also supports seed non-profits such as the Experimental Farm Network and Seed Savers Exchange, that preserve traditional seeds and offer organic and heirloom varieties.
One of the farm’s goals is to increase sustainability on campus. The team does this through helping Dining Services reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by providing hyperlocal produce. Meanwhile, the farm’s practical outdoor learning space makes it possible for students to engage in hands-on projects and set themselves up for career success.
“Food has a history of being a source of connection in our communities,” Doughty explained. “And that is what we are trying to center on in our operations.”