Mid-summer and a group of students are weeding away on the now-fertile courtyard of the Mercer Court Apartments. They work quickly under the guidance of Perry Acworth, UW Farm Manager, now in her second year (pictured below, front row, second from right). On a lower level, pollinating bees and other insects flit back and forth from a packed flowerbed to nearby plantings of corn and other vegetables. The multilevel site, half an acre total, rests between the buildings of Mercer Court and is one of three UW Farm locations. The largest site is a 1.5 acre, student-powered urban farm and educational facility located at the Center for Urban Horticulture due east of the main campus and part of the Union Bay Natural Area. A third site is a convenient series of raised beds on the back patio of McMahon Hall.
Talk about locally sourced—That means the fresh lettuce, tomatoes and other vegies, can and do end up on the plates of our restaurants and the shelves of our markets.
“We use produce from the farms almost year round, depending on what is available,” said Dale Askew, General Manager for Local Point. “We utilize produce from the farm throughout our concepts but feature them in the salad bar and Tero.” Dale added, “Our relationship with the farm is super positive. Perry is incredibly responsive and works closely with us for products we use.”
Perry brings energy, commitment and experience to the job of Farm Manager. Born in Long Island, New York, she owned and operated a commercial grass-based sheep dairy, with cheese, layer hens and vegetables in Union, Maine, for 17 years. In 2012, Perry sold her farm and moved to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a graduate degree with the goal of becoming a farm educator. Since earning her master’s in education at UW in 2014, Perry has managed three student farms. In 2017, prior to accepting the UW Farm Manger position, Perry helped create a 10-acre farm business incubator in Woodinville for Viva Farms that includes the Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAgE) student farm. She is now able to apply all of her previous experience and knowledge to the maintenance and potential expansion of the UW sites.
Among her many roles as UW Farm Manager, Perry oversees the care and development of the sites, explores ways to support research and projects related to sustainable agriculture, instructs and trains student volunteers (up to 75 per quarter), and advocates for support of the program from academic and other departments.
"Volunteering at the farm can give individuals an urban farm experience—putting them in touch with the earth, access to nutritious produce, and connections with others, while being outside and doing the physical work of growing food for the community,” notes Perry. “Because the farm is on a university campus, we purposefully facilitate hands-on learning, critical thinking, and discussions centered around topics that are current and relevant to students, curiosity and discovery.”
Student volunteer Annaluisa, a junior and sociology major, concurs: “Farming takes a lot of dedication, sacrifice and passion! We as consumers often lose the connection to our food because we never see how it's grown and harvested but rather just see it just sitting pretty and nice at the grocery store. So to have the UW Farm feeding the UW dining halls and the District Market with its delicious produce is incredible.”
Learn more about the UW Farm.