Outback Farm Receives Grant

by Frances Badgett

Tucked at the foot of Sehome Arboretum amid the buzz of honeybees and the cluck of chickens lies the Outback Farm: five acres of gardens, an apiary, a food forest, and wetlands adjacent to Fairhaven College on the Western campus. In its (almost) 50 years, The Outback Farm has been an outdoor classroom and, in recent years, a locus for food justice, providing produce to the Western Hub of Living Essentials (WHOLE) food pantries that serve students in need. About 1,500 students interact with the farm every year.

Outback Farm Manager Terri Kempton is an expert in organic farming, permaculture, and conservation biology. She oversees the students and staff who grow fruits and vegetables, restore the wetland, collect eggs, care for the bees, pull invasive weeds, and many other tasks the farm requires.

This month, the Outback Farm received an $8,000 grant from the Whole Cities Foundation from Whole Foods.

“We are honored to be recognized for our food justice work at Western—and so very grateful for this important funding and all it will enable us to do,” says Kempton.

Two women who work at the Outback Farm recognized what a great opportunity the grant would be for the farm.

“Our student Permaculture Coordinator Kate Conway and Nicole Meinzer, a farm volunteer who cooks and caters at Western, work together at Whole Foods. They nominated The Outback Farm for the grant,” says Kempton.

The Outback Farm provides food for the WHOLE pantries and hosts pop-up events like free farmers markets to distribute fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, eggs, and honey to students in need.

“This funding will allow us to increase our food production and distribution to students facing food insecurity. We’re going to include outreach materials for students on campus, including resources for cooking education and kitchen literacy,” says Kempton.

The Outback already offers about a dozen workshops and events annually, including the Fall Harvest Jubilee and this year’s speaker series on food, farming, diversity, and justice.

In addition, the Outback will start generating food year-round, a goal almost since its inception a half century ago.

“We’re going to purchase the equipment we need to grow microgreens, like alfalfa and broccoli sprouts, so the farm can be productive throughout the cold months of the year,” says Kempton.

A small solar unit will provide energy for warming pads and LED lights.

And then there are the chickens, the Outback Farm’s celebrities.

“We have the most beloved chickens on the planet, and they deserve a clean, safe, durable space to live and play,” says Kempton.

In addition to a new henhouse and coop, the space itself will be refreshed, with rotational grazing areas that flip-flop so they aren’t always in the mud and dirt.

The impact for The Outback Farm and Western Washington University is significant. As the effects of global climate change—including food insecurity—expand and grow, the need for local organic permaculture becomes greater and the Outback Farm moves from being a small spot on campus to an essential classroom and food source for the Western community.