At UW Farm, students learn in a living laboratory

A pizza party was what first lured Aisling Doyle Wade, ’21, to the UW Farm. Against the backdrop of golden sunflowers, she found a welcoming community—inspiring her to sign up for an Urban Farm class in the College of the Environment.

As a UW student, Doyle Wade (pictured above, second from right) volunteered and worked at the farm’s three sites: a sprawling 1.5 acres near Union Bay Preserve, a rooftop garden at McMahon Hall and an urban farm site between the seven-story buildings of Mercer Court Apartments. After graduating with a degree in Community, Environment & Planning, she returned as the farm’s production manager to help oversee its day-to-day operation.

Each year, some 1,200 to 1,500 Huskies like Doyle Wade find their way to the UW Farm through classes, service-learning programs, research projects and clubs. Students are at the heart of the certified-organic farm, which began as a registered student organization in 2006. Today, it generates 13.8 tons of produce annually for campus dining, the Husky Food Pantry and a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

When they’re plucking sun-ripened tomatoes off the vine for a CSA box, coaxing spiny thistles out of the ground before the winter or adjusting to daily weather shifts, students gain hands-on insights in this “living laboratory,” says farm manager Perry Acworth, ’14.

For Doyle Wade, this immersive learning was an invaluable part of her Husky Experience. “It’s about connecting what you’re learning in class to a real-world example,” she explains. “I learned better seeing and experiencing things firsthand.”