Founded by students in 2003, Middlebury College’s educational garden, the Knoll, has become an incredibly important center of climate justice, resiliency, education and community nourishment. The Knoll is a place where people flourish as much as food, where connection between the students and the wider community becomes reciprocal, and where learning, service and transformation take place daily. The Knoll’s 20th anniversary is in 2023, and in honor of this upcoming celebration and all that has become over the past 20 years we would like to share what we love about the Knoll.
The Knoll’s story is one of commitment. Volunteers composed of students and community members created the garden from the ground up. Dedicated students, faculty and staff have kept the garden growing for the last 20 years with immense labor, love and generosity. Over 100 student interns have tended the land through the seasons, overseen by three consecutive Food and Garden Educators and countless student volunteers during the school years.
If you haven’t been, we highly encourage you to take a stroll around. Right off the TAM and Route 30, the Knoll is a beautiful spot on a hill, surrounded by a green marshy expanse and flanked by views of the college and the Adirondacks. Feel free to meander through the garden, smell the flowers and harvest from the Grazing Garden — the circular garden dedicated to communal nourishment. Rooting in place is vital to understanding, and our words can only do so much to represent the Knoll. This place radiates love.
The Knoll is currently overseen by Food and Garden Educator Megan Brakeley ’06 and a dedicated group of student interns through the spring, summer and fall. Volunteer hours are offered multiple times a week in the spring and fall, and last year nearly 300 sign-up slots were filled by students. These devoted hands nourish a garden that provides for the campus through a partnership with Dining Halls and Crossroads Cafe. The garden also provides for the greater Vermont community through various community partnerships including Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) and the Nulhegan Food Security Project. In 2021, the Knoll grew over 3,000 pounds of produce that was distributed by HOPE, over 1,000 pounds more than the year before. For the Nulhegan Food Security Project, the Knoll grew about 300 pounds of produce, in both 2020 and 2021. The Knoll also has a long standing partnership with Cornwall Elementary School, welcoming the third graders weekly for five weeks each fall, engaging them in gardening, soil ecology and more.
The Knoll is also a site of restoration, providing space for the betterment of students’ mental and physical wellness. In 2021, 36 students received PE credits at the Knoll through volunteer hours. This space is one of the college’s most popular ways for students to move their bodies in ways that feel good while being outside and engaging intentionally with their landscape while working towards feeding the community.
Along with food production, the Knoll is an important gathering site for the campus community. In 2020, the Knoll hosted 25 events and 32 days of educational programming. In 2021, over 55 official college events were hosted at the garden. Knoll staff also plant and manage an annual experiment for 40 students for a Natural Science Environmental Studies lab class. The Knoll reaches the larger Middlebury community, by hosting or assisting with year-round events such as reunions, Fall Family Weekends, Bread Loaf Commencement, Language Schools, Alumni College, MiddView, Early Arrival programming and countless others. In the summer of 2022, the School of Abenaki held class at the Knoll and marked the beginning of a partnership through ceremony and plantings of sweetgrass.
As Middlebury students, many of us pride ourselves on attending a school that is awake to the intensity of the ongoing climate crisis. We choose Middlebury and Vermont because we are biologists and activists, artists and gardeners, builders and collaborators who crave a place to share, learn and serve resilience. The Knoll is where students can come together through our differences, speak truthfully and do work that directly impacts our fellow students, staff and local community. Justice is rooted in listening, acting with heart and gaining genuine comprehension of context. Many students choose to go to the Knoll because it offers a place to truly practice climate justice and find community in the wake of the climate crisis.
Middlebury College students have demonstrated a strong and growing interest in learning about food systems in the classroom, too. According to the Food Studies Department, since the creation of the Food Studies minor in 2020, 20 students have declared and eight more intend to. Additionally, 10 students are pursuing or have completed Independent Scholar tracks on food-related subjects. Extracurricularly, hundreds of students have engaged with local food issues through Weybridge House. An average of 40 students gather there weekly for community dinners, while over 200 students come to the Weybridge Feast each year. These meals are open to the whole Middlebury community and consist of produce grown within 30 miles, much of which is sourced from the Knoll. There is clear demand for engagement with food justice from students, particularly since we live in Vermont where the strong agricultural focus provides community nourishment and radical possibility. We know that food lies at the center of climate, labor, economic, political and social issues. Studying food systems is an avenue for students to gain an interdisciplinary understanding of the world. As climate change exposes the faults in our food production systems, students are realizing that reimagining these systems is vital to building resilient communities. This growing student interest stresses how food is not just a conversation for agricultural schools and programs, but vital everyday for each of us.
The Knoll is also an important BIPOC affinity space. In the U.S., agriculture and food systems are impacted by the violent processes of colonization and slavery. Simultaneously, there is a pressing need to acknowledge and honor the agricultural roots of many Black, Indigenous and other people of color, and foster exploration and reconnection with students’ personal and ancestral histories to land and food. The Knoll has consistently emerged as a central space for students to hold this history and imagine what the future of our food systems might look like. In community, the Knoll is co-creating a space that allows us to dive into the complexities of imagining futures where co-existence, solidarity, and justice are abundant. The numerous BIPOC affinity spaces organized by Megan Brakeley, in collaboration with the Anderson Freeman Center (AFC) and the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki point to the interdisciplinary, hands-on work underway at the Knoll. Among other BIPOC affinity and focused events, the Knoll also hosts First@Midd gatherings in the beginning of academic years, held space for a bouquet making workshop for the AFC’s “Bridgerton Bunch” which is an affinity space for women and femmes of color on campus, and hosted a Kimchi making workshop with RAISINs. A field trip was also coordinated to Soul Fire Farm in New York State which is an Afro-Indigenous community farm committed to decolonizing and seeding sovereignty in the food system. These all point to the community-connected experiential learning that the Knoll is dedicated to. In a state where BIPOC representation in farming and agriculture is so limited, taking up space in the garden has opened doors for so many BIPOC students to explore environmentalism and community-building while breaking down perceptions of who belongs on farms. The Knoll’s interdisciplinary focus on food and organizing gives BIPOC students a radical space to feel joy and learn vital skills to benefit whole communities.
The Knoll’s 20th anniversary will be celebrated throughout 2023. It is truly remarkable how much the Knoll has grown over the past twenty years through dedication, collaboration, and resilience. We look forward to inviting alumni who helped create the Knoll, past student interns who have cared for the land, and the many community members without whom the Knoll would not exist to join in this celebration. The Knoll is an important site for the college’s Energy2028 goals and the climate resiliency work that Middlebury is known for and the anniversary presents the opportunity to highlight this work and that of students and professors who meet and exceed sustainability goals. We hope to invite more Middlebury community members to the Knoll to celebrate this abundance with us, and we seek community support and excitement as we make these plans. We look forward to the ways the Knoll can continue being a site of nourishment, education, gathering and joy for many more years to come.
With so much gratitude for the intention, care, and labor that goes into co-creating this campus community,