One Year With Airlie Center | The American Word

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One Year With Airlie Center

How an AU-owned farm in Virginia could produce the potatoes you eat in TDR


By
Kimberly Cataudella | 12/5/17 8:22am


George Gu /
American Word Magazine

An
hour and fifteen minutes of navigating through city traffic, past highway road
signs and through a seemingly never-ending, grass-surrounded road leads one to
American University’s future satellite campus. Black cows meander around their
enormous, grass pens. Horses nibble on hay bales. Adirondack chairs overlook
ponds, sunbeams shimmering over the wind-induced ripple of the blue water.

Strange
to think that American’s downtown-DC college campus could be paired with such a
postcard-perfect scene located a little over an hour away, right?

In
September of 2016, AU received a 300-acre property donation called “Airlie
Center,” located in Warrenton, Va. Aside from being a farm with an on-site
organic garden, the property contains a building called “Airlie House,” a
location for Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights strategy meetings (among
other activists) in the 1960s and 70s.

According
to the Washington Business Journal, the Airlie Board of Directors gifted Airlie Center —
valued at $15 million — to AU instead of selling the property, which was the
original plan.

One
year after Airlie Center donated its property, faculty members of AU and
affiliates with Airlie are working to see how the space can become an active
learning center for students.

Students
may be able to see Airlie Center building dorms for AU students studying at the
facility in Warrenton, composting the organic waste thrown out at AU’s main
campus and harvesting produce to be served in the Terrace Dining Room.

Plans
for the Future
AU and Airlie

Airlie
Center mass-produces potatoes on its farm, and AU hopes to get those on
students’ plates in TDR.

“There’s lots to be said about knowing your product from
start to finish,”

said Chuck Smith, executive director at Airlie. “We have harvested about 40,000
pounds of potatoes, and we’ve donated lots to the local food bank. We hope to
take [produce] from the farm to dining services at AU.”

Kiho
Kim, academic liaison with Airlie Center and a professor in the department of
environmental science, hopes that students will independently study food
security and organic farming with the facilities that Airlie has to offer.

“We want to eventually build dorms [on Airlie’s property],” Kim said. “We’re still
looking at what’s possible to use on the infrastructure and figure out what
will be of interest to our students. Once we have that, we will begin serious
programming from there.”

Larry
Engel, academic liaison through Airlie and an associate professor in the School
of Communication, hopes that AU can soon create “the Airlie semester.”

“Maybe
the students could hands-on study sustainability or learn about environmental
documentary filmmaking through ‘the Airlie semester,’” Engel said. “The
semester isn’t just restricted to SOC and environmental science; it includes
SIS and other schools if they find a way to be a part of it.”

Kim
said that if students wanted to stay overnight right now, they would be paying
at least $150 per night. Once students get excited about Airlie and the
learning possibilities with which it provides scholars, AU can begin looking
into outside donors and contributors from its alumni population and beyond.

“We
have to create the vision first and some semblance of its importance before we
ask for financial contributions,” Kim said.

The
organic farm on Airlie’s property is used more for demonstration and
experimental purposes, and AU hopes to have students performing their own
experiments on the pesticide-free plants. The flowers at Airlie support
pollinators and allow the facility to make use of the aviaries (or beekeeping
structures) on site, Kim said.

Sustainability

Tyler
Orton, zero waste manager from Facilities Management, hopes that Airlie will
provide another space to compost AU’s organic waste. If this were to happen,
Airlie could use the soil that it makes on its own property and maybe send some
of it back to be used on AU’s campus.

“The
main issue with anything waste-related is transporting it, and we’d have to
cross state lines to get to Airlie,” Orton said.

The
composting cycle gives back to the earth, so every piece of organic waste
thrown into the landfill is a missed opportunity to better the environment.

The
composted banana peel gets broken down into soil, then AU buys back the soil
from our composting
facility
in Prince George’s County and
uses it on campus.

Students
must recognize that they have a direct impact on the environment just from they
waste they throw out, said Grace Pugh, co-president of the Zero Waste Club and
a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The sustainability factor of Airlie made American want to
make the property its own
all the more. Having a farm in DC’s backyard allows AU the
ability to continue making environmentally-friendly decisions when it comes to
conserving energy and resources.

“We
want the students to be engaged in the food production process,” Kim said.
“We’d like to see students out there to be a part of growing food and bringing
it back to AU or donating it to DC kitchens or food banks in Warrington county.
We’re starting with [an experimental] group of faculty and staff, but that
conversation will expand [to students] so we make can Airlie Center into a
satellite campus.”

History

Airlie
Center was the location at which Earth Day was born, MLK came up with his idea
for marching in peaceful protest and eight Emmy-winning environmental films
were created, making Airlie a relevant place for American University students,
Engel said.

“With
MLK meeting there to discuss civil rights with other members of the movement,
the space relates to AU students more than we thought it would,” Engel said.
“Also, Earth Day was basically created at Airlie in 1970, and we’re coming up
on the fiftieth anniversary in 2020. This is a critical part of history.”

Engel
and Kim both believe that these social and environmental justice movements will
inspire donors to monetarily contribute to the opportunities that AU hopes to
offer to students through Airlie.

Airlie
Center chose AU as its donation recipient because of the institution’s mission:
ideas into action, action into service.

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“It
was a mission that they found very similar to theirs,” Kim said. “We have
aspirations to turn Airlie and all of its history — which is really relevant to
our students and to our institution into a campus, and we want students’ input and engagement
throughout the process.”