By Kathleen Phillips
Matthew Weintrub left life in the city after high school and entered college as a finance major.
Things got dirty after that, he confesses.
Peer pressure lured him to a field in the shadows of Kyle Field football stadium at Texas A&M University and changed his life forever.
Weintrub quit his major, and a website tells the rest: he became a farmer – a farmer intent on feeding himself, his fellow students and a hungry world.
“The Texas A&M Howdy Farm is a student-run, student-led initiative to create an experiential learning community where people can learn sustainable agriculture,” said Weintrub, the farm’s manager.
It was a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences student, friend and founder of Howdy Farm, Brady Grimes, who nudged Weintrub to the land.
“It transformed my experience at Texas A&M because I had learned all this stuff in the classroom when it comes to science and biology, but it’s kind of hard to connect plant science when you’re not dealing with actual plants,” he said. “Coming out here changed how I think. You have to think daily about what you’re growing. In a classroom, you don’t experience such things as checking the soil moisture, walking through and noticing bugs and infestations, or knowing when to harvest something at what size. All of that stuff came together when I came out here to the farm.”
Weintrub said his eyes also were opened after taking a freshman course in nutrition.
“I learned a lot even though I had eaten healthy foods growing up,” he said. “And then I realized something else that really hit me hard: I know to eat a banana because it’s good for me and has potassium, but I had no idea where a banana came from. I had no idea where anything came from, and I knew I needed to learn. So I switched my major to horticulture from finance, and I have been immersing myself in science since then.”
Weintrub now is nudging other students to get the hands-on learning while producing healthy food to eat.
What began as a few hundred square feet of raised beds on the main campus has become about 5 acres on a field near the AgriLife Complex on Texas A&M’s West Campus. After yielding a hundred pounds of squash – more than the hungry college farmers could consume – the group partnered with campus dining services to buy their produce for the university’s campus eateries.
The students then applied for a grant from the Aggie Green Fund in 2011 and received $50,000.
“That allowed us to grow tremendously,” Weintrub said, noting that Howdy Farm has year-round production.
Howdy Farm is a Community-Supported Agriculture system that sells memberships to students and others in the community. For $240, a person receives an allotment of vegetables for 12 weeks. Membership information can be found at studentfarm.tamu.edu.