Vassar Today

Matthew Vassar Has a Farm...

By Georgette Weir

I get my veggies from the Vassar Farm. More precisely, I get them from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP), an independent nonprofit farm cooperative that leases 10 acres on the Vassar Farm from the college and grows organic produce for nearly 200 families. 

From about mid-May to mid-November a membership that includes both Vassar and non-Vassar people reap the bounty of an astonishing assortment of organically grown vegetables: basil, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (red and green), cantaloupe, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, greens mix, kale, leeks, lettuce (various, all season), onions (red and yellow), pak choi, parsley, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rutabaga, scallions, spinach, squash (acorn, butternut, yellow), Swiss chard, thyme, tomatoes (including cherry and heirloom varieties), tomatillos, turnips, watermelons, and zucchini. Cut flowers, too.

The season just ended was the second in the PFP’s existence. The farm was started by a small group of individuals—many of them Vassar faculty or relatives of Vassar faculty—who share interests in organic gardening and sustainable agriculture. It is structured according to the principles of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which means that members share the risks and benefits of farming with the grower by purchasing their share of vegetables in advance of the growing season.

In the case of the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, a full-time grower was hired to run the enterprise, which is managed by a core group of volunteers. In year one, three acres were cultivated to produce food for 100 member families. In year two, the project expanded to five acres and 185 families. Members are drawn from across the Poughkeepsie community, and include students as well as low-income families who are offered financial assistance.

Shareholders have an obligation to work a minimum of 15 hours over the course of the season. Their efforts are supplemented by a cadre of student interns (most of them from Vassar), Vassar students allotted by the Office of Field Work, and an AmeriCorps staffer.

An important component of the PFP is its educational program: school children, college students (including classes from Vassar, Marist, Dutchess Community College, as well as chefs-in-training from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park), and adults visit for both formal and informal introductions to organic farming and issues relating to sustainable agriculture.


Says grower Dan Guenther, who not only plants and weeds but is the farm’s number-one educator and advocate: "A surprisingly large segment of Vassar’s student body is highly attuned to the environment, and they are excited about farming and what we’re doing out here." Did somebody say "Food"?