Growing a Green Thumb at Duke Campus Farm

Duke community logs about 2,000 volunteer hours at farm in 2013

Emily McGinty, farm fellow with Duke Campus Farm, picks tomatoes at the one-acre farm. Photo courtesy of Duke Campus Farm.

Getting her hands brown with dirt has unlocked Lauren Castillo’s appreciation for having a green thumb.

Once a month, Castillo, along with a few coworkers from Duke’s Prospective Study of Infant Development, travel to the Duke Campus Farm, where they volunteer to care for the one-acre plot of land. Since she started spending time at the farm last summer, Castillo has planted flowers and herbs, learned how to grow mushrooms, and helped harvest a variety of vegetables.

“I come from a line of gardeners, but it’s fun to learn about organic farming practices,” said Castillo, a senior bilingual research aide with Prospective Study of Infant Development. “It’s great team building for my office. It’s nice to get out and do things together in a different kind of environment than the office.”

Castillo’s experience is one that many Duke community members have shared in the past year. Students, faculty and staff combined to work about 2,000 volunteer hours at the farm in 2013. They helped cultivate 5,600 pounds of crops that were sold to Duke Dining to be used in dining halls or directly to consumers at the Duke Farmers Market or Mobile Farmers Market.

All students and employees can volunteer at the farm every Sunday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. during the summer. Work may range from planting seeds to harvesting or small construction projects. No farming experience is necessary.

“I think it’s really important to learn how to grow your own food,” Castillo said. “I hope I can use the expertise of the people I’ve met at the farm to start a garden of my own.”In addition to successful crops, the farm has also celebrated two construction milestones, including a 144-square foot tool shed to store equipment and a 1,700-square foot pavilion for hosting events. The pavilion is available to students, faculty and staff to use for retreats, team building or other events at the farm at 4934 Friends School Road in Durham.

This spring, Agata Rocka and about 30 staff from the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) used the pavilion for an annual staff outing. The group hosted a food truck, took tours of the space and learned about agriculture.

“Compared to spending time at a restaurant or a ball game, going to the farm offered an outdoor activity that would be fun for everybody,” said Rocka, a special events coordinator with DGHI. “It’s a great place for Duke employees to spend time because it’s close to campus and offers a lot of flexibility for what you can do.”