Lessons from the land: Cultivating community at the Yale Farm
Asked if she would consider herself a farmer, Jasmine Jones ’26 pondered for a moment.
“I would say I’m definitely doing all the things a farmer does,” Jones said with some reluctance, although she’d just spent a steamy July morning manually operating a multi-pronged gardening tool to turn the soil on a one-acre parcel of land known as the Yale Farm.
“I’ve always been interested in sustainability and knowing where my food comes from,” she added.
It was that curiosity — and a desire to cultivate community — that led Jones, a rising sophomore majoring in global affairs and in economics, to commit to a 10-week stint working on the Yale Farm.
“So much of our time is spent inside of libraries and inside of classrooms and it's just constant studying,” Jones said. “It was a nice change of pace to be outside and be in nature and be able to really just touch the ground and learn as I go.”
Jones, as well as five other Yale College students tilling the soil alongside her, is taking part in the Lazarus Summer Internship program. Offered by the Yale Sustainable Food Program since 2003, the internship teaches principles of sustainable agriculture and the critical thinking skills required to manage complex agricultural systems. They learn organic methods, including seeding, pest management, crop rotation, and irrigation. They also participate in classes on food, agriculture, and the environment, and take field trips to farms and organizations across Connecticut and New England.
The students incorporate the tenets they learn on the farm in their chosen course of study, said Jeremy Oldfield, manager of field academics at the Yale Farm.
“We use the problems, challenges, and opportunities of agriculture to create an inhabitable external classroom for all sorts of teaching disciplines at Yale and community members around here,” he said.
Oldfield, who directs farm programming for the internship program, believes the lessons learned on “the Old Acre,” as the Yale Farm is endearingly known, complement the classroom experience for the students.
“There is a balancing that seems to happen to someone's life when they get to both participate in the rigorous intellectual work down the hill and bridge that into some of the physical, tangible social work that happens here,” he said.
A few years ago, when Jacob Slaughter ’24 arrived in New Haven from his rural New Hampshire hometown to attend the university, it took some time to settle into his new environment.
“It was a really tough adjustment, just being around a lot of concrete,” said Slaughter, an ethics, politics, and economics major. “I was used to green.”
When he discovered the opportunities offered at the Yale Farm, Slaughter thought it could be a fitting way to transition to his new chapter in the Elm City. Since then, he has continued to work on the property at 345 Edwards Street (a 15-minute walk from Old Campus) as a farm manager and now as a summer intern.
“Being on a farm like this, it brings people together in a really sort of equal and wholesome way,” Slaughter said. “You can connect with people over weeding or planting a crop or harvesting in a way that sometimes feels absent from other areas of life.”
Said Oldfield: “We like to call the Yale farm a problem-rich environment for problem-based learning. Students didn’t get into Yale because they were good farmers usually. And so, there’s a leveling that happens here.”
“It’s been like the best crash course in everything that I’ve wondered about food,” said intern Rebecca Salazar ’26, an ethnicity, race, and migration major.
“The farm is a space that really centers humility,” Salazar said. “I think it makes you feel conscious of how much power we have as human beings to have an effect on our environment, how much support we can give one another, and just how beautiful life is.”
To learn more about how the Yale Sustainable Food Program grows food-literate leaders on the farm, in the classroom, and beyond, click here.