SHAVERTOWN — Centuries ago, the farmland now owned by Liza Rolland was plowed and planted with teams of horses.
This week, history repeated itself.
A pair of Belgian draft horses operated by Rich DuMond methodically pulled a one-bottom plow through the rich soil in preparation for a service-learning cooperative farm project initiated by the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program at Misericordia University.
Dubbed FARMU, the program will use the 1-acre plot to produce fresh vegetables that will be given away for free to children and families in the region.
Katherine Pohlidal, director of the Bourger Women with Children program, said FARMU gives students a hands-on learning experience while also educating them about food insecurity.
“People who are food insecure don’t have access to healthy, nutritious foods or they can’t afford them,” Pohlidal said. “This program will help fill that need and will create a positive impact on the region.”
The produce, which will include kale, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, beets, chard, collard greens and melons, will be distributed through the Weinberg Food Bank, Bourger Women with Children, the summer Food-n-Fun @ the Park program in Wilkes-Barre, and summer lunch programs at local schools.
The first year of the project will involve 1 acre of the 5-acre site with hopes to expand to 2 acres in the second year with a maximum growth of 5 acres. Interns from various schools, including Penn State University Park campus, Cornell University and Marywood University, will be at the site throughout the summer helping maintain the organic farm to satisfy requirements needed for nutrition majors to become registered dietitians.
DuMond and tree farmer Andy Kalie, of Shickshinny, are serving as consultants.
Rolland previously used the site to raise vegetables for her own farm business. Every year, Rolland donated any extra produce to local food banks and said it was an easy decision to allow Misericordia to use the plot.
“There are a lot of lessons with this, including teaching students where our food comes from,” she said. “Using horses brings a sustainable element to the program, and we will plant vegetables that are abundant with the goal to feed 1,000 kids.”
On Thursday, lessons were being learned as soon as DuMond’s horses began rolling over the sod.
Misericordia student Diane Bennett said she is looking forward to having a role in producing food and helping the community at the same time.
“For me, it comes down to giving back to the community. The fact that we can learn from this as well is great,” Bennett said.
In addition to food production, FARMU will also be used for research projects by Misericordia students, according to Marianne Tucker Puhalla, staff writer for the university. The program also fits into the mission of the Sisters of Mercy, which emphasizes caring for the earth in a sustainable matter, Puhalla added.
That element is what compelled DuMond to volunteer his time and horses to plow the field. After the soil dries, he’ll return to disc and harrow the field in time for it to be planted next week.
“It’s important to remain connected to the land in a way that benefits the community,” DuMond said.
Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Lamoreaux originally cultivated the property for apple orchards in the 1700s. He and his son, John, also a patriot, are buried at the top of the pasture near the forest line.
Knowing the history of the farm also appealed to DuMond.
“Using draft animals to farm is a feasible way to live sustainably,” he said. “We’re coming full circle today by plowing this ground with horses again.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky