The Outback Farm has been an official Associated Students program for six years, yet it’s been a productive agricultural site for the community since the 1920s.
It was originally homesteaded by the Burn family where the farm sits today. Western later obtained the land and used it for the construction of school facilities and resident halls.
After construction was complete, students began to cultivate the unused land and employ it as a community garden. Under student leadership a barn was raised, a greenhouse was built and a performance stage was erected. In 1999, the potential of the land became apparent to Western, and the farm received endorsement and academic protection from the university.
Still, it wasn’t until 2006 that the first salaried student coordinator was hired and the Outback became an official part of the AS.
“The Outback Farm was entirely volunteer and student-run, and for it to reach its full potential it needed continuous leadership,” Outback Farm Coordinator Roby Ventres-Pake said.
The students had been pushing for AS sponsorship for a few years prior, Ventres-Pake said, and when the farm was included in 2006 is was given the structure it needed to flourish.
In the last six years since its incorporation into the AS, the Outback Farm has grown immensely. The community garden is comprised of 40 individual plots, all of which are available to students, faculty, staff and community members free of charge.
The Educational Garden, built in 2006, is a collectively managed garden where community members can work alongside one another in volunteer work parties. As of this year, the food from the Educational Garden has been distributed between Outback volunteers, work crews and the Bellingham Food Bank.
The most recent addition to the program is an outdoor classroom, which now stands at the North end of the farm. The outdoor classroom is being used to host workshops and meetings, but it will also be made available for classes, clubs and other academic programs.
The Outback work crew, composed of work-study employees and student volunteers, is the backbone of the farm. The work crew meets multiple times each week to keep the Outback healthy and productive.
Lauren Rein Caster, a current member of the Outback Work Crew, has worked at the Outback for three years.
“I would definitely recommend becoming involved in the Outback,” she said. “When I wandered out into the gardens for the first time I had basically no experience in gardening and didn’t know anyone. The Outback is one of the most welcoming and accepting places on campus. You will learn anything you need to know just by showing up and being interested.”
How To Get Involved:
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday, volunteer work parties gather at the Outback and tend to the various parts of the farm. This is an opportunity for anyone who is curious about the farm and wants to learn agricultural techniques from more experienced farmers, or share some of your own knowledge with those just beginning.
Over the course of fall, the farm will also be hosting a number of workshops, one of the first being a Botanical Medicine Workshop on Oct. 11 from 4-6 p.m.
For more info., visit the Outback website at as.wwu.edu/outback or contact Roby Ventres-Pake at firstname.lastname@example.org.