When you see the beautiful variety and taste the incredible quality of produce from Hartland Natural Farm, you might imagine it to have been grown by a seasoned farmer. However, this produce is grown and harvested by college students at the Hartland Institute, a Christian missionary college in Madison County. As part of the college’s core-curriculum, students operate a diversified year-round vegetable farm, mostly growing in high tunnels (unheated greenhouses) and following organic growing practices, allowing them to have a plentiful supply of fresh produce year-round.
The students not only grow crops for resale, but also to supply their own cafeteria. The student-run cafeteria and on-campus farm, managed by Armando Lopez, creates a unique connection among students to their food and how it was grown. The student farm operators get to experience a career in agriculture while completing their studies, enabling them to graduate with business, marketing, nutrition, and agriculture skills in addition to their missionary studies.
Hartland Natural Farm began working with Local Food Hub in the early spring of 2014. During a time when product was scarce due to early season cool temperatures, Hartland had a beautiful array of produce to offer, including some of the most attractive and flavorful leeks we’ve ever seen. By primarily growing in high tunnels, the students are able to produce a good supply of Swiss chard, mixed greens, garlic, beets, spinach, carrots, and kale year-round. Many of their products make their way into our school cafeterias during Virginia Farm to School Week, when menus boast local, fresh spinach salad, tender baby kale, and more.
The crew at Hartland partners with Local Food Hub in a variety of ways. They participate in our group of winter high tunnel growers who are working together to improve our supply of local, fresh produce offerings in the winter, and are helping to organize training opportunities for other partner producers. Hartland Natural Farm deservedly won our 2014 “Rookie of the Year” award at our Community Food Awards ceremony. Read more about their award here on our blog.