Story+ Team Examines the Past and Future of the Duke Campus Farm

July 9, 2021

What this land has seen: interactive board.
The Story+ team’s interactive board

By Dana Adcock ’22

Although the Duke Campus Farm was founded only ten years ago, the land itself has a complex and storied past. This summer, students on the Story+ team What This Land Has Seen pondered how they could celebrate what the farm has achieved while also acknowledging the sacrifices made for this achievement.

Their research into the history of the land unearthed both good and bad.

Examining the Land’s History

Flowers and dirt.
Flowers at the Duke Campus Farm (from the team’s presentation)

Started by undergraduates, the one-acre Duke Campus Farm (DCF) is just seven miles from campus, tucked away in the Duke Forest. DCF provides an opportunity for visitors to have direct experience with growing real food.

Over the past decade, the farm has grown from a small student group to a full university program with a mission to spark positive change in the food system.

Story+ team members Ella Dunham (Program II ’22), Tyler Edwards (Biology ’22) and Sierra Winters (Cultural Anthropology and Food Studies ’21) were guided by Saskia Cornes and project manager Nikki Locklear (Ph.D. in History ’27).

They decided to focus their project on the land’s history, exploring stories of people who have occupied the land in the past. The students were influenced by the concept of biocultural restoration, the process of restoring both ecosystems and human and cultural relationships to place.

The Cackalacky Plot: A Living Memorial

The Cackalacky plot, a section of DCF coined after a nickname for North Carolina, implements biocultural restoration into DCF. It includes indigenous plants and cotton from plantations as a living memorial. Visitors to the farm interact with these plants and learn about their histories on tours.

One of the discoveries that team members grappled with was that previous owners of this land were slaveholders.

“Many lives and stories of the enslaved people were lost,” said Ella Dunham during the team’s presentation on June 24. “The only records of them are their names in the estate titles.”

The students held a moment of silence for those whose stories have been erased.

Flowers, corn cob.
Tobacco flowers with cotton balls and a corn cob, harvested from the Cackalacky plot (from the team’s presentation)

Learning from the Dirt

Student with spade at farm.
A student working at DCF

The farm also incorporates embodied learning, which adopts methods of hands-on learning that can’t come from a textbook. Visitors can dig their hands into the soil and hold conversations with other community members. They interact with living things, both human and non-human. Students have even created their own projects with DCF, from building a greenhouse to choreographing a dance performance.

The Story+ team members wanted to find the right medium to showcase their project. “We needed a platform to show connections between what we studied and how it persists throughout time,” said Tyler Edwards. They chose a virtual, interactive board to display their findings throughout the summer.

The interface is layered with different discoveries, and users can even annotate the board. The photos throughout the different layers represent the themes that tie project together.

students and faculty.
The Story+ team

The Future of the Farm

The team developed an action plan as a proposal of future initiatives for DCF. More hands-on programming would expand the opportunities for embodied learning. They noted that a centralized location for DCF student projects could foster more collaboration between students. They also recommended that DCF should continue to build relationships with migrant farm workers.  

Offered through the Franklin Humanities Institute and Bass Connections, with support from Duke Libraries, Story+ is a six-week summer research experience for students interested in exploring interdisciplinary humanities research topics and methodologies. Summer 2021 projects ranged from artificial intelligence and social change to the history of Duke Magazine.

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