By Alexander Tuchman, Farm Operations Assistant, Retreat and Ecology Campus

This growing season has been an interesting time for the Loyola student farm. Our student-run business has really shown us how dependent we are on the delicate balance between sunshine and rainfall. With hardly a winter or spring to speak of and a great drought with a lot of heat this summer, we have had to throw our winter plans out the window and completely modify the way we are treating our soil, conserving our water, and using our energy. We have to really educate ourselves on the laws of nature, and take them to heart as we set forth to grow healthy and delicious food for our community. We must adapt yearly, monthly—even daily—to our surrounding conditions and go with the flow.

Without the healthful grasses and herbs available for forage in our pasture, our chickens, who in the spring gave us wonderfully orange-colored and perky yolks, have now started giving eggs that are a mid-colored yellow—a sign of a lack of carotene in their diets. They gain carotene and other nutrients as they eat and digest various green grasses and herbs in the pastures. Without the rains this year, our yellowed grasses have much less nutrition to offer the chickens. So, we adapt. We’ve been keeping a close watch on what the Loyola student farm is selling at the Farmers Market this year, and what our shareholders would like to see in their produce bags. These notes have shown us that kale is something we have in excess. One shareholder will not accept kale in his produce bag at all. Since it seems that our shareholders are at their kale thresholds, we decided to use this leafy green to give our chickens a little nutrition boost to make up for their lack of green pasture.

The Loyola student farm pastures also have much less to offer our bees, who rely on the nectar and pollen of flowers to make their wonderful honey. Without much new growth sprouting up lately, we are worried that the bees won’t have enough forage in the fall, when they need to be building up their stores of honey to survive the winter. So, again, we adapt. We are now planting soil-improving crops such as buckwheat and clover, which not only make nutrients available in the soil, but also send up flowers that are favorable for our bees in the fall.

We believe this drought to be part of an unpredictable trend in our environment where extremes become more and more common. We need to learn how to adapt to those changes. In a time where the main constant is inconsistency, the work of farmers is now incredibly challenging and more important than ever. The Loyola students that have chosen to come to the Retreat and Ecology Campus to spend their summer farming have really been compelled to reach into the Jesuit playbook for some serious experiential learning as they lead the way toward new agricultural techniques that can help us maintain a steady and healthy food supply for the future.

Story courtesy of Loyola magazine (Summer 2012).