The SSA Farm is a 40'x100' vegetable garden located on the far fields of the Senior School campus, off of Squaw Run Road East. The idea for a campus farm came to life thanks to the efforts of Academy President Tom Cangiano, Senior School faculty members Derek Wagler, Leah Powers and Guido Giuntini, and Academy Facilities Director Paul Francioni.
In June 2012, the SSA Farm was officially born when 22 student, faculty and parent volunteers planted 16 types of vegetables – either from seed or from seedlings started by the Environmental Club. Over the summer, a team of volunteers was organized by SSA Farm Director Tina Nussbaum Wagler to water, weed and harvest the vegetables. In fall 2012, students enrolled in a new PE Farm option took over the work of the farm until it closed for the season.
In the farm's first year, more than 500 lbs. of produce was harvested, including basil, corn, cucumbers, green beans, onions, peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes. The bulk of the harvest went directly to SSA's three dining halls. Students also sold a small portion of the harvest at the weekly Fox Chapel Farmer’s Market, held on the Senior School campus, to help cover some of the farm's start-up and operating costs.
Future plans for the SSA Farm include involving students in Senior School science classes and other academic disciplines more directly in the farm, as well as finding ways to involve younger students. In summer 2013, campers in SSA's Summer Programs will have the chance to visit and work on the SSA Farm as part of their day camp experience.
Goals of the SSA Farm
- Sustainability – To provide fresh produce to the dining halls on all three SSA campuses, and to patrons of the weekly Fox Chapel Farmers Market
- Experiential Learning – To provide a unique, hands-on learning experience for students in multiple disciplines, including science and economics
- Leadership – To provide a leadership opportunity for Senior School students and to encourage mentoring of younger students
- Community – To create a community of volunteers with common interests that spans the entire SSA community: students, parents, faculty and staff
PE Farm Option
In fall 2012, the PE Farm option was created, giving Senior School students the opportunity to earn academic credit in physical education for working on the SSA Farm. Tasks and activities include:
- Harvesting more than 200 lbs. of tomatoes, plus pepper, basil and green beans
- Planting spinach, kale, lettuce and Swiss chard for late fall harvest
- Making corn shocks
- Weeding and turning over soil for fall
- Building and filling compost bins
- Helping to build a perimeter fence
- Building a straw bale maze for Homecoming
- Setting up and selling produce at the weekly Fox Chapel Farmer’s Market on campus
- Cleaning up the greenhouse in preparation for use in colder weather
The farm provides a variety of interdisciplinary learning opportunities for students, such as:
In 2012-2013, students in Environmental Science classes are working on a unit related to the farm that includes: soil testing/analysis and recommendations for soil remedies; an integrated pest management plan for possible farm pests; and plant selection and farm layout planning, based on climate and soil type.
In fall 2012, students in Cari Batchelar's Intro to Architecture class worked at the request of the SSA Farm to design a shed to store tools and equipment and provide indoor work space. The project was integrated into the course curriculum and utilized the students' newly developed architectural skills. The class' final shed design features a porch to accommodate on-site educational presentations and provide a shady respite from gardening, a 20'x22' work area with a counter for starter plants, and a loft storage area. The design also incorporates "green" building elements such as skylights, a cupola for airflow and a rain barrel integrated into the gutters.