by David Cecelski
Last week my son and I visited Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa. I hope these photographs capture at least a little of the campus’s extraordinary beauty. Nestled in a river valley east of Asheville, the college covers 1,350 acres, including a 300-acre working farm and market garden run, like everything on campus, by the students.
Founded by Presbyterians as the Asheville Farm School in 1894, Warren Wilson has always combined farm work and a liberal arts education. As part of the college’s unique curriculum, every student works at least 15 hours a week on the farm or in another job that’s essential to running the college.
During our visit, we watched students tending the college’s sow herd, feeding cattle down by the Swannanoa River, and cleaning the chicken yard. They were carting manure to organic gardens and moving young vegetable plants from their greenhouses and hoop houses into the gardens.
A whole crew of students had just come out of fields freshly planted in wheat, oats, barley, corn, and hay. We peeked into the blacksmith shop, too, where a young woman was putting the finishing touches on a new farm gate.
In addition to growing vegetables and greens for the dining halls, the students supply 85% of the beef served on campus. Twice a year, they also sell quarters of beef and pork to the general public, as well as their own handmade sausage and bacon. (For details on purchasing meat from the college farm, check out this link.
The college’s students also sell produce at two weekly markets on campus—Tuesdays at the Garden Shed (11 AM-4 PM, May to October) and Fridays next to Gladfelter Cafeteria (11 AM-1 PM, May to December). They take produce weekly to the Riceville Tailgate Market, 2 or 3 miles off campus, as well, and they even sell a little milk and honey.
They also hold a big herb sale once a year, just before Christmas. At that holiday affair, they sell salves, teas, and other herb products that they’ve made during the year.
The students operate a vegetarian eatery, too. Located in Gladfelter Student Center, the mischievously named Cow Pie Cafe features fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch meals. I had an unforgettable lunch there, probably the best meal that I’ve ever had on a college campus: a spicy collard green and bean chowder made with ingredients grown only a hundred yards away. It was just one of many, many things I liked about his wonderful place.