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By Krisy Gashler
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  • Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Agriculture
  • Food
Undergraduates manage day-to-day operations at Dilmun Hill Student Farm, which was envisioned 30 years ago.

For the past almost-30 years, a small group of undergraduates has worked together to run Dilmun Hill Student Farm. With support from the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Cornell AES), Dilmun’s student managers choose which crops to plant, how to grow them and where to market the produce. For many student managers, the experience is a highlight of their time at Cornell.

“I wouldn’t change my time at Dilmun Hill for anything else,” said Raymond Pan ’25, a 2023 farm manager. “The things I’ve learned and the relationships I’ve established through Dilmun have definitely changed my Cornell experience.”

Dilmun was first envisioned in 1994, and the first growing season was in 1996. Each year, three to four students are hired as farm managers, starting part-time in the spring, growing to full-time over the summer and continuing part-time in the fall. In addition to raising crops, the role includes supporting Dilmun’s educational mission, such as hosting student research experiments and welcoming a variety of classes to the farm. Courses that regularly visit Dilmun Hill address topics like sustainable agriculture, food justice, soil science, agricultural machinery and food cycles. 

Ryan Maher, organic coordinator for Cornell AES, is the farm supervisor and provides support, training and continuity for the managers, but leaves most decision making up to the students. 

“The thing that makes Dilmun so impactful for students is that they have real ownership of the farm, and the decision making and the learning experience,” Maher said. “It’s a pretty amazing responsibility, but they are making day-to-day management decisions on the farm, from thinking through the markets that they have available to them, to what that means for crop planning and sales of their produce, to developing daily, weekly and monthly work plans to actualize those goals.”

Students last year sold most of their produce through a summer community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, in which other students and community members paid a set rate for a weekly share of produce. They also sold via pop-up farm stands on campus and through Anabel’s Grocery, a student-led grocery store in Anabel Taylor Hall. Students donated excess produce to Ithaca’s Friendship Donations Network

Kaitlyn Feely ’24, an agricultural science major, hopes to own a farm someday, so being a 2023 manager has provided an invaluable experience, she said. 

“I’m definitely the type of person who needs a balance between computer, school assignments and real, tangible farm work – I need to be with plants and soil,” Feely said. “There was so much energy and excitement, showing up everyday and feeling so connected to the land and to my co-workers. Dilmun is such a special corner of Cornell. It’s really an oasis for me.”

Collaborating with fellow farm managers is both the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of working at Dilmun, the students said. The role is open to any undergraduate student on campus, with no required major or prerequisite courses, so student managers bring a wide array of perspectives and priorities with them. 

“With all of us coming from different backgrounds, we have different thoughts and ideas, but there's only one space. So talking through what we’re going to do is a big challenge but also really rewarding when it comes together,” said Pan, an environment and sustainability major. Pan, for example, spearheaded a new effort last year to establish a “pollinator garden” with the goal of supporting wild bees and other pollinators. The flowers he grew were a hit with customers and provided another source of income for the farm. 

Students can also become involved at Dilmun Hill through the Dilmun Hill Club, and attend any of the farm’s community events, dinners or work parties.

“Working on a farm is very hard work, but it’s so gratifying to see the process happen – from seeds to harvest – and to know that you’re providing nutrition to someone,” Maher said. “Cornell is a really big place, and Dilmun provides a community around food and farming that means a lot to students.”

2024 Dilmun Hill student farm managers

Izzie Beck

Year: 2027

Major: Agricultural sciences

Hometown: New York City

Extracurricular activities: Run club, Cornell Tradition Fellow, novice rock climber

"I'm excited to be a part of a community that's centered around growing food, which has incredible power to nourish ourselves and the land we're working on. I'm inspired by all the past work managers at Dilmun Hill have accomplished and honored to continue their work this 2024 season. The CSA, shiitake logs, paw paw trees, tomato growing, dinner parties, hazelnut bushes, and flowers are just a few of the many things I'm ecstatic about."

Coco Poopat

Year: 2026

Major: Plant Sciences

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Extracurricular activities: Cornell iGEM (Wiki and Design Subteam Lead)

"I was drawn to Dilmun Hill because of the strong community aspect, both within Dilmun itself and as part of the wider Cornell community. I wanted to find a way to get more involved on campus while still doing what I love. I'm really excited to learn about all the different aspects of managing Dilmun, from crop planning to planting to outreach!"

Elinor Behlman

Year: 2026

Major: Environment & Sustainability

Hometown: Montclair, NJ

Extracurricular activities: Anabel’s Grocery, Prisoner Express, Agrawal Lab

"Since I first visited Dilmun during my freshman year, I’ve been inspired by the farm’s commitment to community engagement and small-scale, ecologically-based agriculture. I’m looking forward to getting to know the other managers while working towards developing the farm’s markets and outreach programs this summer and fall. I’m especially excited to implement Dilmun’s CSA program, to grow lots of garlic and greens, and to connect with other students, Ithaca residents and community groups." 

Blythe Van Ness

Year: 2026

Major: Environment & Sustainability

Home country: Trumansburg, NY 

Extracurricular activities: Nature Rx, Anabel’s Grocery, Climate Justice Cornell

"I find that farming is a great way to learn about the environment and create civic engagement within communities, both of which I am very interested in. I am super excited to gain experience and skills in sustainable vegetable farming and production. I have never grown nor shared food at this scale, so I can’t wait to enter a new phase of my growing career. I am also incredibly excited to be working with a lot of different communities and folks to make Dilmun a special place for the 2024 season."

Portrait of Izzie Beck
Portrait of Coco Poopat
Portrait of Elinor Behlman
Portrait of Blythe Van Ness

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