As owner of an organic farm in New York, Laura O’Donohue is witness to the farm-to-table disconnect of our generation.
“In the 1920s, about 25 percent of the population was involved in farming, including many of our grandparents,” O’Donohue explains. “But in the U.S. today, less than 1 percent of the population has a job in agriculture. Our food systems seem far removed from everyday life and a world away from most students.”
That’s no longer the case at Stanford, however. A gift from Laura and her husband, Kevin, MBA ’87, enabled the university to break ground this fall on the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm, a living laboratory dedicated to teaching, research, and the demonstration of small-scale agriculture.
In other words—the Farm will again have a real, working farm.
Established by the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (formerly the School of Earth Sciences) on nearly six acres adjacent to Stanford’s historic Red Barn, the farm will produce a bounty of edibles as well as a new generation of leaders in sustainable food systems.
A greenhouse, a small propagation facility, and a shelter for washing and packing were erected over the summer, and the near-term hope is to add a sustainably constructed “green” barn as the farm’s flagship structure and center of production and learning.
Where Theory Meets Practice
Already, students enrolled in the fall course Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture are integrating what they learn in the classroom into their fieldwork, planting cover crops that will protect and improve the soil over the winter.
“They are learning cultivation approaches in a real-world context that includes economic and management considerations—the kind of hands-on experience that ties everything together,” says farm program director Patrick Archie, an agroecologist who teaches the consistently oversubscribed course.
In the winter and spring, students will plant orchards, field crops, and pastures, with an urban demonstration garden soon to follow. Farm products will initially be sold to Stanford Dining Services and through two small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs.
Archie has formed partnerships throughout campus and the local community to ensure that the farm’s educational programming and outreach will serve a broad audience. Special programs, internships, and site visits will create leadership opportunities for Stanford students and establish the farm as an important training resource for the entire community.
“The new farm fills a need that has been voiced by students for many years,” says Pamela Matson, Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies. “It is an important extension of the classroom and will help Stanford more fully prepare our future leaders to address one of the most critical sustainability issues of the 21st century.”
Kevin O’Donohue met Laura at a campus tailgate party in 1986. The couple moved to New York City soon after they married, but Laura maintained her California sensibility and became a passionate advocate for local, healthful food—which was something of a novelty in her new community at that time.
So she and Kevin decided to do some farming about a decade ago when they bought a property outside the city—a place where their four children could range freely on weekends and school breaks. Today, Snow Hill Farm is still a family affair but also an important regional producer of all natural certified Angus beef, lamb, Berkshire pork, fruits and vegetables, wildflower honey, firewood, and compost, as well as an invaluable educational resource.
The O’Donohues have maintained close ties to Stanford. Kevin is an ambassador for his MBA class of 1987 and a regular participant in GSB alumni events such as the Executive Challenge. Laura serves on the Stanford Educational Farm’s advisory board.
Kevin and Laura also have honored their parents through their philanthropy: They endowed a Stanford athletic scholarship in honor of Laura’s father, John K. Jerrehian, a longtime Cardinal sports fan. They also named a classroom in the Knight Management Center for Kevin’s mother, Joanne, who received her master’s degree in communication at Stanford and remained a university employee until her retirement.
Kevin and Laura’s gift to name the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm honors all of these connections as well as the family’s shared interest in sustainable farming.
Literacy around food and the environment benefits everyone.
“Whether it’s clean water, healthful food, or clean air, we know these problems are not insular. They’re issues for all of us.”