A group of attendees at the Fall Harvest Jubilee. // Photo courtesy of Terri Kempton
Music floated through the crisp fall air as people danced around, played cornhole, and drank warm apple cider from paper cups. Bright-colored leaves on the ground showed signs of Fall starting.
The Outback Farm held Fall Harvest Jubilee on Oct. 3 to celebrate the beginning of Fall and bring in more recognition of local opportunities. The event was hosted by the AS Environmental and Sustainability program, and featured crafts, games and live music from the Mary Anns and Carrots and Hummus.
The Fall Harvest Jubilee started around three or four years ago, but has not been an annual event. Kempton started working there last November and on Oct. 3 of 2019, attended her first fall festival for the farm.
The Fall Harvest Jubilee sat at the entrance to The Outback Farm that hosts 61 community garden plots, a small wetland ecosystem, two owls and a variety of other animals, according to Terri Kempton, Outback Farm manager. Kempton said, the farm was started in the late 60s by a group of students who wanted to use the land. The years have brought on change, from students living in tents and farming to cabins on the ridge.
“We’re so lucky because we actually have five acres in the middle of campus basically that’s dedicated to farming,” Kempton said. Kempton began teaching at Huxley, but when the manager position became available for the farm, she took it.
Kempton said it was students who kind of put the grant proposal together for my position, saying ‘what really would be helpful to have is someone who’s working behind the scenes, but consistently can hold that institutional knowledge.’
Coming up are Outback work parties; twice a week during the Fall every Monday and Thursday, according to Western senior and assistant coordinator Sage Fairman, who helped promote the event.
These work parties cover the herb gardens, native plants and community gardens. Thursday, Oct. 10 is a plant ID and uses workshop on the farm, according to Fairman.here will also be a restoration work party that is open to everyone on Nov. 1.
“[Our coordinators] are responsible for deciding what would be fun to do on the farm, and for having educational workshops,” said Kempton. She explained that every quarter they have three workshops that are free to students and open to the community, led by an expert for the specific subject.
Workshops in the past have been on herbal medicine, biochar, cultures, plant IDs, and fungus. “But it’s so important to have social events too,” said Kempton. “So, this is our big one to kick off the year. It Just brings everyone together.”
In April the Outback Farm holds an Earth Day event with the Environmental Center, but in the Winter, it’s reserved toward DIY, sustainable holiday-themed events. This year, program director Kelsey Leppek said the farm plans on making programming more diverse and applicable to a wider and more expansive range of students.
“This event is only once a year, but it has really drawn a big crowd, which is really exciting,” said Fairman. “Hopefully in the future it could be more volunteers, more passionate staff members as well. Or just other students really involved in learning about sustainable agriculture.”
Leppek said she has done conservation and trail work for the last number of years and had been doing so in Bellingham, which is how she got involved with the Outback Farm. “Then when I decided to go back to school, I was looking for a job that would be flexible with my student schedule. But I also wanted something that would feel like, existentially gratifying … It really aligned with my values, but it also aligned with my life.”
The Outback revolves around sustainability and engagement with the student community, according to Leppek. The fall event lets people know there’s a farm on campus, which often goes unnoticed.
“It was exciting to plan the different components and events that would go on,” said Leppek. “It was fun thinking about the space being used by so many people. And now that it’s actually happening, it’s fun to see that come to fruition.”
Groups of friends sat at a wooden picnic bench creating decorative jars with dried leaves. A scavenger hunt was ongoing that took students around the farm, and upon completion would enter you in a raffle to win a pumpkin or Outback Farm hat.
“We’re in stack nine and our window is open all the time,” said Western Sophomore Lillie Brown. “So, we heard the band and saw a bunch of people painting and realized, let’s go down there!” Brown was also excited about winning a hat, and stated “the people have been really nice so far.”
“A lot of people have been doing the scavenger hunt, which is great,” said Leppek. “Because it’s really getting people to interact with the space in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise.” It’s five acres with a lot going on and a lot to offer, according to Leppeck.
The scavenger hunt was a sheet with 18 questions that had answers around the farm, according to Fairman. It was the most popular and also engaged people with the farm through activities such as planting seeds, so that they had a hand in growing plants and vegetables.
Kempton said, The farm also works with the food pantries on campus in combating food injustice and insecurity. “It’s a big passion of ours … and also a place where students can just come to reflect.”
In Spring 2019 there were five classes that used the farm as a primary classroom, plus independent studies, according to Kempton.
“It’s a good space for students, or really anyone, to calm down and have this presence of nature on campus,” Fairman said.