My Davidson | A Student Blog A Davidson Farmer

Ethan Kearns '23 picking lettuce

Ethan Kearns ’23 harvesting lettuce on the college farm.

Ethan Kearns '23 reflects on his time spent nurturing and caring for Davidson College's Farm as a student employee.

About the Author

Ethan Kearns '23 is a chemistry major and Chinese Studies minor. Outside of working at the Farm, he is a member of the Pre-Med Society and the Chinese Culture Club. 

Working at the Farm at Davidson has been a cornerstone of my college experience. I remember my first day at the farm. Immediately I was put to work transplanting lettuce into one of the seemingly endless rows of planting beds. It was surprising to be in this position as I’ve never so much as cut the grass or planted a garden back home. Something about the farm called out to me as a new experience, an adventure that would take me out of my comfort zone and reward me in many ways.

a compilation of scenes from a farm

I was introduced to the farm manager, Joe Rowland, a no-nonsense farmer, and immediately showed the ropes of growing and harvesting crops. It was a highly coordinated effort. With Joe being the only full-time employee at the farm, the other student workers took on a surprisingly large part of the responsibility and were expected to work.

a group of young men and women stand under a greenhouse

Ethan and a group of students help out at the farm.

Over the semester, I learned the endless cycle of seeding, planting, harvesting and washing crops. I also handled other large-scale projects, including refurbishing greenhouses with plastic sheeting and constructing new fences surrounding the property. I was becoming familiar with insects and scurrying rodents along with the seasons. As I adjusted to the life of a college student, the farm helped me to balance the demands of the classroom in contrast to the planting cycles. The farm was a godsend allowing me to be outdoors and active for hours each week. It was much more meaningful than just a work-study requirement. Soon, it would become much more than a job picking lettuce.

a green field filled with pumpkins

Pumpkin season at the Farm.

a young man uses a flame-weeder in a greenhouse

Ethan uses a flame-weeder.

When COVID-19 struck the campus, the farm remained my one escape from the cycle of endless Zoom meetings over CRT screens, lockdowns and isolation from fellow students. Navigating the challenging times, the farm reminded me that life continues demanding our attention beyond the current moment! Seeds needed to be planted and crops cared for according to a timeless calendar of renewal.

When I returned to start my junior year, I was surprised to find that Joe had left for greener pastures. The farm had become run down and overgrown in a short period of time. I had to consider whether the school would continue with the farm. Suffice it to say I was heartbroken, feeling my friends could not understand my attachment to the farm as they saw it only as a job. I knew it to be much more.

Midway through the semester, the school found a manager. Halle Murphy became the new first-time farm manager. We immediately struck up a friendship. I used all of the knowledge and institutional memory I acquired in those first two years under Joe Rowland. With Halle’s expertise, we got the farm into working order together with David, another student worker. We worked hard the rest of the semester, bringing the farm back to life.

a field of colorful flowers in front of two greenhouses

Rows of zinnias, marigolds, and cucumbers sprawl in front of two high-tunnels.

a group of young men and women work inside a greenhouse

Students adjust drip tape.

My senior year is drawing to a close; I’ll remember the chemistry labs and classrooms, midterms, and research papers. I’ll also recall driving the tractor under the hot sun, my fingers stiff from the cold weather working during the harvest and the afternoon I spent pushing a truck out of the mud in the field, the wet earth spinning off the tires. Earlier that same day, I had been in the chemistry lab’s sterilized, controlled environment, miles away from the sweat and dirt. The science labs and classrooms or the fields of the farm–these places are challenging and provide fulfillment. Standing alone in the meadow, I remember the quiet moments and all of the rewarding experiences I’ve had at Davidson College.

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  • January 11, 2023