CAPA, Institutional News

Bennington’s Purple Carrot Farm is Growing

On a chilly early spring day at Purple Carrot Farm, Lilliana Kelly ’25 took a break from the crew repositioning a silage tarp to recount her history with the place.

She enjoyed the farm work she had done near her home in Pennsylvania, so visited the Purple Carrot Farm for the first time in the first few days of her first term at Bennington. It was a volunteer day she attended with her roommate, whom she didn’t yet know. They chatted while weeding a farm bed and listening to music with the other volunteers. The two became great friends, Kelly said.

Harvesting lettuce with Lyra Holahan and Gracie Yaconelli '26
Harvesting lettuce with Lyra Holahan '26 and Gracie Yaconelli
German Butterball potatoes with student farm interns Hannah Leckrone 24 and Emmett Donovan 24
German Butterball potatoes with student farm interns Hannah Leckrone '24 and Emmett Donovan '24

“I think there is so much connection that happens doing work together,” she said. Plus, she added, “It gets pretty brainy here [at Bennington], and it’s really refreshing to do physical work.” 

Kelly’s favorite memories relate to intermingling fresh-as-can-be produce and companionship. 

“We always plant sungold tomatoes, these little cherry tomatoes. Returning in the fall and being out here with the whole farm crew talking about our summers and picking these cherry tomatoes...It’s a quintessential farm moment.”  

The Purple Carrot Farm has existed in many forms at the College. In the mid 1900s, it served as a victory garden, and students were required to work on the farm during food shortages. In the 2010s, the farm was a part of the Bennington Sustainable Food Project, a student group dedicated to raising the awareness of a sustainable food culture within the community. 

This year, with the help of a grant from the Bennington Fair Food Initiative, which supports workforce training and business creation for a regenerative and resilient food system in Bennington County, the farm has a faculty member working to coordinate student workers and volunteers. Artist, community organizer, farmer, and visiting faculty member Kelie Bowman leads Kelly, four other student workers, and a handful of volunteers in the farm work. She is renewing care for the perennials and planting more of the available space than has been used in recent years. 

“I am tripling what we grow,” she said during a tour where she pointed out the fruits and vegetables currently in the ground, including grapes, raspberries, blackberries, sunchokes, garlic, and strawberries. The greenhouse in Dickinson is full of flats of hot peppers, onions, cabbage, parsley, kale, shallots, and flower seedlings, and the greenhouse in the field is prepared for radishes and spinach. 

“These trellises will grow cucumbers and green beans,” Bowman said, as she gestured toward a long recently cultivated bed complete with T-posts and newly installed fencing for the vegetables to climb. “The back trellis, which we just put up this week, will be for peas.”

Last season, the farm transitioned to a no-till system. Not tilling minimizes soil disturbance, which helps keep carbon in the soil. It also enriches the soil with organic matter, uses fewer fossil fuels, increases the soil’s water-holding capacity, and protects crops during periods of drought and flooding.

The farm is a working farm, certainly; they sold 1,500 pounds of produce directly to the Dining Hall last year. But it’s also a social practice, Bowman says, and a place for learning. She gestures to a large pergola at the center of the farm. 

“We are going to plant some climbing flowers to make that more of a hangout zone,” said Bowman. "I want to activate the space for the Bennington community to enjoy while also encouraging them to respect it as a working farm."

Like Kelly, the social aspects of the farm resonate with students. Sophia Hemmen ’26, who studies Japanese, medical anthropology, and indigenous cultural restoration, volunteers on the farm. She’s from California and has worked on farms and at a summer camp where she taught school-aged children to forage for wild edibles. She enjoys working on the crew and making the farm a welcoming place for others by organizing events and workshops.

“I wanted to get to know the people who work here and see what they are up to,” she said. “I know a lot of students who want to get involved with the farm and have a place that they can feel proud of and connect with people.”

It’s also a place for hands-on learning. 

Kelly, for instance, is planning a closed-loop regenerative system for the farm as a part of her advanced work in sustainability and food systems. She is thinking about how she could reorganize the College’s composting system in a way that will further reinforce the connection between the College and the farm. 

“With working on farms full time, there’s often not a lot of forgiveness and space for learning,” Kelly said. “It’s nice here to be able to build a lot of skills and figure out things as a group.” 

Hannah Hall ’26 studies drama and visual arts, but her interest in food and sustainability has been a constant throughout her life. She spent five years working on farms throughout high school and her gap year. She is working to rejuvenate the farm’s herb spiral, a spot just inside the gate meant as both an attractive welcome to visitors and a place to grow valuable herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes. She has begun to map the space, including what herbs she would like to plant, where they will go, and how much space they need. 

“There are plenty of people who study food justice and sustainability who work on the farm, but there are also some of us who don’t,” she said. “It’s nice that we are all able to learn from it. If we ever want to try something, Kelie is open to us. She’s helpful and gives me a lot of support and teaches me things I didn’t know how to do before.”  

In addition to supporting a faculty member to lead the farm project, the Bennington Fair Food Initiative (BFFI) also supports a sustainable agriculture class that started April 12. As a part of the class, students visit herb, vegetable, milk, goats, sheep, and mushroom farms and even explore forest farming. A corresponding class in the fall will address the skills necessary to take a project from concept to reality, including writing a mission statement and creating a budget. 

“They will collaborate on creating and designing a project together,” Bowman said. "We will use the farm as material: experimenting with natural dyes, processing food, medicinal herb cultivation, and more and then move into the classroom to learn skills to plan and develop a project or small business from the ground up."

The future is bright—and busy. In addition to the increased cultivation, the grant-funded work, and events and workshops, the crew plans to install a bee yard and mushroom logs this spring and work with visual arts students to make attractive placards as labels for people who are unfamiliar with the plants. 

Hall, Hemmen, and Kelly are all eager to share the farm with others. 

“The farm for me is another way to be connected to this place. It is good to move your body and be outside and meet people,” said Hall. “We are thinking of ways to get more people interested in the farm, and that really excites me. It’s such a wonderful place, and I love talking about it and sharing it with people.” 

“I think this is going to be our best spring yet,” Kelly said. “We have a really good season ahead of us.” 

For more information about the farm, visit the website. Volunteer days are planned for 1:00–3:00 pm on Saturdays until the end of the spring term. All are welcome to attend.