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Associated Students defunds Western’s Outback Farm

As AS hopes to lower budget, The Outback faces uncertain future

Nestled between the Fairhaven dorms and Buchanan Towers is a lush valley of diverse plants. This place is The Outback Farm, and its gardens serve as the epicenter of agriculture at Western Washington University.

The Outback Farm was created after the construction of the Fairhaven dorm complex in the late 1960s, and has since provided a space at Western for hands-on learning and community engagement in growing food.

The Outback is composed of an educational garden, forest garden, herb garden, a community garden and a production garden that supports food banks and pantries around campus.

In 2007, The Outback Farm became funded by Western's Associated Students. This partnership provided financial support for activities and student employees such as the student engagement coordinator, operations coordinator and an Outback permaculture coordinator. The farm also employs a summer intern. These roles help to provide The Outback with structure and support for all the activities that take place on the farm.

However, as AS works to reduce their budget, The Outback’s funding faces an uncertain future.

The conversation surrounding how The Outback fit into AS funding began in April of 2021. In an AS Finance Council meeting on April 6, 2021, Raquel Vigil, former Assistant Director of Business and Planning at Western, said that The Outback had been moved into one budget to see how much it really cost.

In addition to the AS funding, The Outback relies on $5,000 a year from Fairhaven College to stay operational and provide the farm with faculty support.

Until this winter, AS provided roughly $50,000 a year to The Outback in funding.

On April 13, 2022, Vigil suggested in an AS Finance Council meeting that The Outback might be a better fit under the Department Related Activities Committee (DRAC). According to the meeting minutes, “People generally feel that The Outback is a Fairhaven program, and this is another example of the absence of university funding,” Vigil said. Other members of the council raised concerns about whether or not The Outback was being used by non-Fairhaven students.

Following this meeting on April 13, conversation continued about where The Outback’s funding should come from. At another finance council meeting on April 27, 2022, the board discussed raising the student activities fee to make up for the deficit in the budget as a whole. Small budget cuts were decided, reducing the budget without removing the program as a whole. It was suggested that The Outback's budget should be cut by 5%.

“My vote is 5% and then a follow-up conversation with Fairhaven,” said Ben Crandall, an activities representative. “If Caskey [Russell of Fairhaven College] can get other funding, then 7% sounds great. But without other sources of funding, I imagine The Outback will have to reduce what they are offering students.”

The 5% reduction would lead to $2,530 in savings for AS.

 In the finance council meeting on April 26, 2023, Brandon Denny, AS Business Director, said The Outback would be defunded by AS after December 31, 2023. At this point, the goal was that The Outback would be transferred to Fairhaven and have the DRAC support the farm’s financial needs. It was also stated that grants could be applied for if there were issues during this transition.

Outback Student Engagement Coordinator Kate Conway said there was no communication with student employees about this decision.

“I feel frustrated because for me, there was never an acceptable explanation given,” Conway said. “The lack of communication is really frustrating.”

Conway also said that according to minutes, there was never a formal vote made to cut funding to The Outback. There was only discussion.

“There’s never been even a formal acknowledgment of what happened,” Conway said. “Still, I have been hearing that AS didn’t defund The Outback and I feel that is objectively untrue.”

During the Services & Activities Fee committee meeting on April 24, 2024, John Tuxill, an associate professor in Fairhaven College and The Outback faculty advisor, voiced his concern over the AS’ lack of communication during the process of defunding The Outback.

“What was said about the work of the student coordinators at The Outback, that their work is mainly academic, is not accurate,” Tuxill said. “That is not true.”

Tuxill was cut off by Michael Sledge, Executive for Student Life at Western, and told that he was not allowed to speak during the meeting as there was no public comment.

“I really think it’s important that we get our facts straight on this issue because the way that AS has stepped out of supporting The Outback after a dozen years requires an awful lot of explanation,” Tuxill said. 

It was decided in a DRAC meeting on May 8, 2024, that the DRAC would allow The Outback as a probationary member to see the farm is a good fit. This decision was made after The Outback presented that they meet the standards written in the DRAC charter.

Vanessa Blackburn, DRAC chair, said it’s a fairly straightforward process to join the DRAC.

“We just got the committee together; we went through the whole rubric,” Blackburn said. “It was pretty clear that everyone felt that it was a good fit for the committee, it fit into all of our rubric.”

Blackburn said The Outback will be on probation for three years, then it will have full membership.

Funding for The Outback is currently being provided through the provost reserve fund.

Conway said she likes The Outback because of the impact it has on campus. All food grown in The Outback is given back to students. She also enjoys spending time in the dirt and sun.

“One of my favorite things is definitely watching the farm come alive in the spring,” Tuxill said. “I see students out there and everyone’s just enjoying the space. All the plants come to life with flowers coming out and bees start flying around.”

“I don’t think any of us want The Outback to fail,” Blackburn said. “We all want it to succeed. I love The Outback, and I’m happy that they are part of our committee now.”

Peyton Perdue

Peyton Perdue (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year visual journalism major minoring in religion and culture studies. When she’s not reporting, you can find her taking pictures, reading or (most likely) napping. You can reach Peyton at

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