In early 2014 we interviewed one of our founding members, Jason Hering, to catch up on what he has been up to since graduating. Jason graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Studies in 2010 and was instrumental in getting the farm started. Obviously Jason stays busy doing a number of things in Lawrence around sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurialism, and food justice. He has long been a leader in cooperative living and is a co-owner of The Purple Carrot, a local food truck you can find at our local farmers market. He also stays connected with the farm by being a community advisor helping connect students to all the great work happening in Lawrence around sustainable agriculture. Thank you Jason for staying a part of the family!
Interview by Katrina McClure
What years were you a participant at the farm?
As part of a class project me and especially one other person, Ben, through Kelly Kindscher’s Capstone class in Spring 2009 we had a project that we wanted to make happen while we were doing the project, and it started to form over the next year. But then the following summer I went to India, so I talked to a group of people including Kim Scherman, Nick Benson, and Greg Beverlin. They worked on it while I was gone, because I had really wanted to dig into it- but then I had to go to India, it was the best opportunity I had right then – to travel. So when I came back I was still loosely involved, I was still in school the following year. I tried to help out and plan and expand it. ⇒University of Kansas Environmental Studies Program
How old are you?
28, and I guess I have been involved with the farm ever since. I haven’t had a plot out there for a while, I usually just help with logistics and whoever is leading it now. Help out with advice and consulting.
What year did you graduate?
Were you an officer at the farm, if so what was your title?
I might have been president at the beginning, when we were trying to make it a student group, but it didn’t really matter at that point we were just trying to get people involved.
Can you tell us about the capstone course and how an idea for a farm came about?
Originally I had been working with Dr. Kindscher on some other projects regarding the wetlands and other campus issues. I took a road trip out to the West coast, and several colleges out there, like The Evergreen State College, had these really great student farms. I wanted to work on a project making like a campus orchard or a student farm. And it just worked out logistically that we went forward with that. Kelly and I talked and he made it a capstone class project and I was naturally a part of it.
Who all was initially involved, besides you and Kelly?
Ben Alexander was the other strong pusher. Danielle Golon helped out. There were other people in our capstone group that were a part of the beginning
What year was the class and how long did it take from the time of the course to getting established as a student org?
It may have been that semester, but it was definitely the following semester. And we started asking for student senate funding at that point. Enough people were interested in it and it was fairly easy to make it happen.
What were some of the projects/initiatives that you worked on while at the farm?
I was trying to head up the orchard aspect; we planted a number of fruit trees and nut trees. It was a very difficult year to do that, I think half of them died, there are still some out there alive that need a good pruning. When I got back from India I just wanted to expand it –more plots and more people. The initial linking up with the MRG, we had thought of doing it on another piece of land, but it was smart with the level of organization to link up with them- it has worked out well.
How have you seen the farm grow or change from your group’s initial vision?
Originally we had set out to have a small area for student plots, like personal plots. And then the student FARM idea would be for larger production, to try to sell to KU Dining or at farmers markets as a fundraiser but for a variety of reasons that aspect flipped itself. I had tried to grow larger scale back by the fruit trees one year, but it didn’t work out. It takes a lot of time and work, and I was involved in a lot of things. We did try to expand onto main campus several times. I know Kim tried when she was president for a long time, and Tresa really helped out with those efforts. But I think this expansion into helping community gardens- was never a part of the original plan- but I do think it is a good plan now. It has been interesting, after I left and wasn’t a student anymore and to see it take a different path. There is a thing called Founders syndrome, when an someone sticks around and sometimes fights everything because they have this vision in their head but, I have had to check myself a couple times and just remind myself, “No, support whatever they are doing, these are the people making it happen right now.”
What are some tips you have to share about beginning gardening?
Just try it! There are so many gardeners who have very particular ways of doing things and they’re all different but there is no one right way. And I think that’s where a lot of people get caught up, they think they don’t know anything or they keep hearing different things from different gardeners so it’s confusing. The only way I have learned is through experience, because once you do something and it fails or works you remember that so much more and you want to continue trying. Link up with other people; it’s easier to work with other people. Visit successful gardens, and then just reading I guess.
What are some resources in Lawrence that can help people interested in starting a garden but don’t know where to start?
Student groups, the KU Student Farm of course. There are all kinds of resources in the libraries and there are all kinds of great gardeners around here. The extension service has classes on gardening 101 and rain barrels and other things. They also have pamphlets with growing calendars and things that we even use at the Student Farm. The Seed Fair is also a good place to learn.
How has the community garden scene changed over the years in Lawrence? What is needed to strengthen local community gardens?
Well from what I can tell all the community gardens are very different, and that’s one reason I’m excited for the Student Farm to kind of collaborate with a lot of them, some connecting force that has stability that’s not just the people trying to continue it is pretty important. Whether that’s the student farm or some overarching non-profit that keeps them going. The Common Ground program is helping community gardens grow.
What are you doing now?
Last season I helped manage a small farm- Willing Horse Farm, which was about 3.5 acres, horse-powered, organic production. It was a definite learning experience. But now I am focusing my energy where I am going to help and not lead a farm, because it just takes every minute you have if you want to do it well. Or you can put all the time you want into it and never have enough time and I am not ready for that yet. I am on the Douglas County Food Policy Council right now. One project that we are working on right now is creating an Incubator Farm on one of the Common Grounds sites.
So is an Incubator Farm like an educational farm?
It’s usually a larger plot of land split up between beginning farmers that want to scale up in some way and don’t have access to land or money to do so. They sign a lease and are usually there for three years or so and they take classes about growing and selling and tool sharing, all the elements. It’s close to the Student Farm, up by Teepee Junction.
We heard you are involved in a food truck, can you tell us about that?
I took over a worker owned co-op food truck that uses local and organic food; it’s called the Blissful Bite. A fellow named Anil Kamat was an engineer and decided to get out of that and he built a food truck, he did it all by himself, very talented guy, he had a passion for food. He ran it for two years and then had decided to move. That was about the time a group, including myself, decided to start up our own co-op business and we started talking to him and took it over in January of 2013. There were 6 people who started it, including myself, and we are down to 3 co-owners now. We try to collectively run it; we use the housing co-op model and use it as a business model. We grew a lot of food we used last year on the farm, and bought directly from local farmers. It’s all organic, and we are going to have a more seasonal menu this year. We will be vending at farmers markets and catering. We also started making gluten-free pizza dough for Papa Kenos.
How did your involvement with the farm influence you personally and/or professionally?
I think it was the first project that I helped start that connected me in so many different ways to so many different people. It continued to lead me down food-related issues; it definitely solidified my interest in growing my own food. I learned about what it takes to start up a farm, to try to grow things. It was great just to start teaching people, it was an outlet for people who are even just a little interested in it to come and learn before getting integrated into the rest of society.
Did the practice of growing your own food change existing ideas about food production?
Yeah, definitely. No matter who you are around you have these ideas about how easy it is to grow- or what it takes to grow something when you go into it. Sometimes you think that just any kind of soil will work-and then you learn about compost- there are just so many elements. You learn how important compost is and what nutrients are best for what plants and what works for companion planting and what doesn’t and on what scale. The idea of integrating perennials is an important thing, whether it’s a fruit tree to fruit bushes, or perennials herbs. It’s important to have perennials integrated instead of all annuals because when it is all annuals that site can easily just go back to being only grass.
What is your favorite part of growing food?
The original idea is that everyone eats, so everyone should have a role in their own food production or know where their food comes and understand the process. I think I have learned the more I have gotten involved with it- such as selling produce at the farmers market, preparing food in a restaurant setting of the food truck, and having that connection with farmers and then realizing what pricing means and what that price means to me as a farmer versus to me as a producer versus me as a seller versus a restaurant. It’s all these various elements and it all starts with growing your own food and knowing what that means to you and finding out what about it is most important. So I think those connections are my favorite part, what it builds into and that it’s everywhere around us.
What are your current goals for the future?
I would love to see the Incubator Farm operational and supported with transitional land in the next two years. I still would love to see the student farm expand or have a program that is connected to the Incubator Farm in some way for students who want to grow more food, or if we ever could get in a position to sell to KU Dining Services, something like that. I would also like to have a business incubator that helps people start up cooperative businesses, that’s another larger goal of mine and to continue to expand co-op housing.
You have always stayed connected with the farm, even since graduating. How do you see your role now as a community advisor?
I love the project and love the people who have gotten involved in the project and just being able to give advice based on what I knew from my time of being a part of it. But just being able to provide connections- because sometimes that is a shortfall to being on campus- you may not know about what is going on around town because you are busy with classes and things. So being that connection to the Lawrence community of growing food.
We love catching up with past members. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a past or current member and would like to be interviewed!