As we look back on the history of Dilmun Hill, Cornell’s student-run organic farm, we see years of dedication to a mission. Dilmun was founded on the idea of producing organic food in a way where it can be accessible to people of all ages and economic classes. Cornell’s school of Agricultural and Life Sciences continues to stand by the ideals of food accessibility and can be seen as a microcosm for the change our world must undergo to improve food availability to those in need.
In 1994 the Graduate Student Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (GSSAWG) was formed with the plan to improve experiential learning in the fields of sustainable agriculture and food systems for graduate students. This hands-on learning would take the form of a small working farm that would provide produce through campus outlets; this modest start would later be known as Dilmun Hill and would grow and flourish to provide over 30 shares each summer and fall through their CSA network 20 years later.
With the help of the department of horticulture and the GSSAWG group, Dilmun Hill was officially founded in 1996. The three original acres of land that the farm still stands on were no longer being used by the Cornell Orchards. This was also the year Dilmun’s first shed was built to house tools and equipment.
Only two years later, additional land was acquired from the Department of Animal Sciences. This allowed the farm to grow nine acres and also acquire the historical Blair Barn. With the expansion of the farm, production rose, supplying farm stands at Mann Library and in Collegetown. Dilmun was changing the stigma associated with college living and access to healthy food. Continuing their mission to spread knowledge about the importance of sustainable agriculture, food accessibility, and hands-on learning, Dilmun Hill student-managers worked with kids at the Southside Community Center and the Greater Ithaca Activity Center to introduce children to these ideals. By giving kids the opportunity to farm at a young age, Dilmun Hill was helping to set the foundation for a healthy, self-sufficient, and environmentally aware lifestyle.
1999 marks the year when the new vision for Dilmun was born. Parallel to the multidisciplinary team that makes up the Dilmun Hill Barn Project, a team of student engineers and landscape architects came together to plan for Dilmun Hill. Elements such as an agroforestry windbreak and permaculture-style fruit tree terrace were implemented. Further plans for green energy sources, livestock and a sustainable living center were also considered. With the support of an anonymous donor, two additional salaries could now be provided for student farm managers. Just one year later drip irrigation was installed and grazing sheep, as well as a beehive were welcomed to Dilmun. All the while, increasing numbers of community members are visiting the farm to see the vision of sustainable agriculture in action.
In the early 2000’s, Dilmun became a hot spot for the experimentation of organic agriculture practices. Bins of worms are stored in the basement to munch on organic waste to produce vermicompost which was used on the farm. By 2008, Dilmun Hill collaborated with the nearby MacDaniels Nut Grove to interplant vegetables, medicinal herbs, and berries with hazelnuts and maple trees. Not only did this diversify the farm’s products, it also opened new doors for the students interested in experimenting with sustainable management methods. During this time, the farm was also producing for 20 CSA shares, thereby having an inspiring influence on the development of food accessibility within the Cornell community.
In the spirit of healthy food access, Dilmun continued their tradition of donation: in 2010 a total of 400 pounds of farm-fresh vegetables were donated to a local chapter of Loaves and Fishes, a national foodbank. These inspiring gestures were and continue to be made possible by the student volunteers at Dilmun. Dilmun also continues to be a vibrant site for hands-on education, as classes from all departments, ranging from horticulture to sociology, come out to the farm.
Today Dilmun continues to supply to Cornell cafés, the campus farmer’s markets, the CSA network, and also donates more than 200 lbs of produce to a local food assistance network. Dilmun truly serves as a model for principles of food accessibility and sustainable agriculture that need to be spread worldwide.
How did Dilmun Hill get its name?
A Sumerian tale describes Dilmun as the “Garden of Eden.” Sumeria was located in the Persian Gulf near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers – “The Fertile Crescent” – where agriculture has its roots.
To read more about Dilmun Hill’s History visit: https://cuaes.cals.cornell.edu/farms/dilmun-hill/history/