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Dilmun Hill History

20th Anniversary of Dilmun Hill Student Farm

1994 – An idea is born

A group of students called the Graduate Student Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (GSSAWG) forms to improve experiential learning activities at Cornell for graduate students with a focus in sustainable agriculture and food systems. A top priority for the GSSAWG is to "establish a small scale Cornell working farm on campus and distribute produce through campus food outlets."

Dilmun Hill shed, barn and farm stand1995 – Plans take shape

In the fall of 1995, Professor Ian Merwin from the Department of Horticulture, and graduate student Josh Slotnick put together a grant proposal to help fund a student organic farm at Cornell. While the grant application was unsuccessful in securing funding, GSSAWG and a group of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) undergraduates help push forward with the project.

1996 – Dilmun Hill is established

Dr. Merwin and the group successfully petition Cornell Orchards to provide three acres of land that were no longer actively used by the Orchards. Eight long planting beds are cultivated that season, and six additional beds the following year. Dilmun Hill also builds a new shed to store tools and equipment, and an electric fence to protect crops from critters. Student managers, including Marguerite Wells, the farm's first Summer Production Manager,and volunteers help with these projects. The farm is managed by the Department of Horticulture.

1998 – The farm grows

Additional land adjacent to the existing site is acquired from the Department of Animal Sciences. This new land includes the Blair Barn and nine acres of tillable ground. A large plot of sweet corn is wildly successful. Sales are expanded through farm stands at Mann Library and Collegetown. Student managers continue to work with kids at the Southside Community Center and the Greater Ithaca Activity Center to teach them about sustainable agriculture.

1999 – Developing a vision

Dilmun Hill Vision Plan 1999
Click image to enlarge

Dilmun Hill receives a grant from an anonymous donor, which provides salaries for two full-time student summer managers. Students from several schools at Cornell – from engineers to landscape architects – collaborate to create a broad vision plan for Dilmun Hill. The plan includes many kinds of plantings, green energy sources, livestock, and a sustainable living center. Some elements of this plan are implemented, such as the planting of an agroforestry windbreak and permaculture-style fruit tree terraces.

2000 – Sheep, bees, and drip irrigation

Drip irrigation is installed in the plots and gardens on the hill. The farm attracts dozens of volunteers, and hosts summer programs for area youth. A growing number of Cornell classes visit the farm, including vegetable production, soil science, and agroforestry. Managers incorporate grazing sheep in their agricultural practices for two years and establish a beehive.

2001 – Sweet melons and a TV show

The plots on top of the hill are cultivated for the first time. This hot and sunny farm season produces sweet melons, which are very popular at the various farm stands on campus, along with an abundance of cut flowers and sun gold cherry tomatoes. The farm expands their farm stand presence on Ho Plaza. Dilmun Hill is featured on a cable TV garden program.

2002 – Struggling with continuity

Due to changes in staffing and help, the farm has difficulty maintaining continuity over the summer. The one full-time student farm manager does an admirable job in keeping things going, and the farm still manages to grow a large amount of produce for the Cornell community. In September the new school year brings relief with a large number of volunteers. The bees love the wildflower research project at the farm and produce lots of honey and pollen.

2003 – Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Dilmun's new CSA fills up quickly with 20 members, who receive their weekly share of farm-fresh produce, along with farm updates and recipes. All of the farm's produce goes to the CSA until the late July, when the farm produces enough to also continue the farm stands on campus. Bins of worms live in the basement of the barn, munching on organic waste and transforming it to vermicompost. The high-quality compost produced by this research project is used on the farm.

2004 – Tortilla Flats and Berry Terrace

The Tortilla Flats, Camel Back Bed, Market Garden, Berry Terrace, Wildflower Area and more – all integral and well-established growing areas at Dilmun Hill, are brimming with herbs, fruit, veggies, and flowers.

2005 – Dilmun Hill becomes part of CUAES

As part of an effort to increase operational efficiencies of agricultural operations across CALS, including research and teaching farms, responsibilities for Dilmun Hill are transferred to the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES). The Organic Farm Coordinator starts overseeing Dilmun Hill, and functions as the main advisor and supervisor to the farm’s student managers.

2006 – Improving infrastructure

A tall deer fence is installed around seven of Dilmun's 12 acres to protect student's research projects and produce, fruit and flowers grown for sale to the Cornell community.

2008 – Agroforestry collaboration with MacDaniels Nut Grove

In addition to ongoing projects, such as the vegetable production within Dilmun's Market Garden, Dilmun Hill pursues an agroforestry collaboration with the adjacent MacDaniels Nut Grove. Shrubs and trees, like hazelnuts and maple, are interplanted with vegetables, medicinals, and berries. This helps to diversify the farm's products, and provides new opportunities for students to experiment with sustainable management methods.

2009 – Continued research and a growing community

Student researchers develop Best Management Practices for contaminated soil, in particular agricultural lands contaminated with lead and arsenic by pesticides used in the early 20th century - a problem quite common in the Northeast. Enthusiastic volunteers, crucial to the farm's community and success, help out for a combined 700 hours this season alone. Dilmun Hill expands collaborations with eateries on campus, in particular  Manndible CafĂ©, which becomes an important customer and supportive partner.

2010 – Produce donations and class visits increase

Dilmun Hill continues its tradition of donating produce. This year the farm donates farm-fresh vegetables every week, a total of 400 pounds, to the local chapter of Loaves & Fishes. An increasing number of Cornell classes–six this season–visit the farm for labs, academic instruction, and hands-on learning. Teaching and outreach at Dilmun covers a variety of academic fields, including horticulture, sociology, and crop and soil sciences.

2011 – Rotary plow revolution

The tillage system at Dilmun is greatly improved by the acquisition of a rotary plow implement for the BCS walk-behind tractor, allowing great flexibility for smaller areas and the exact timing of plantings. It also works well with the farm's raised-bed system. In previous years, tillage was done by Campus Area Farms’ tractors with a moldboard plow.

2012 – A permanent raised bed system

To combat soil compaction of Dilmun's heavy clay soils and improve overall soil health, student managers design and install a permanent raised bed system. In combination with cover cropping and mulching, raised beds also help with water management, reduce weed pressure, and are more ergonomic to work on.

2013 – A new water tower and informational kiosk

A new student-designed two-story tall water tower captures up to 500 gallons of runoff from the barn roof. After the water passes through a filtration system, it is used for irrigation of plantings around Blair Barn. A very successful crowdfunding campaign provides funds for other improvements that support Dilmun's hands-on educational mission: in particular a kiosk with informational posters near the farm entrance. New perennial gardens are installed on a very steep slope, following permaculture principles.

2014 – New fences and giant pumpkins

A student team installs a 700-foot long extension to the existing deer fence at the farm to protect the lower garden plots near the barn. This addition makes intensive farming on these superior soils possible. Dilmun's Steering Committee and Advisory Board solidify and document the governing structure to better guide daily operations and assure organizational continuity. The farm's strong history of collaborating with many other student groups such as the bee, mushroom and compost clubs, takes a new turn with Cornell Flotilla: the club successfully grows giant pumpkins at the farm that are used in the fall as vessels for a regatta on Beebe Lake.

2015 – CSA and top ranking

For the first time since 2003, Dilmun Hill is offering a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The 30 shares for the summer and the fall CSA fill up quickly. Members purchase a harvest share at the beginning of the growing season, helping the farm's cash flow. The farm not only continues to sell additional produce to Cornell eateries and at the farm stand, but also donates more than 200 lbs. to a local food assistance network. The Steering Committee holds a competition for a new logo, and the bunny design wins. Dilmun Hill is named one of the Top 10 College Farms by College Ranker.