Where We’ve Been & Where We’re Going

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.

Drone Shot of Dilmun- 2018

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.

Dilmun’s First Shed- 1996

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.

Farmers Market- 2014

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.

Drone Shot of Dilmun- 2018

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.

Work Party- 2017

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.

Fun Fact!

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/

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Making Progress!

These past two months, the team has been working on dialing in on the administrative and logistical aspects of the project.Through conversation with donors, Alumni Affairs, the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station, and student managers of Dilmun Hill Farm, we have created a united effort to tackle the more complex aspects of the project. Transparency throughout this process is essential to keeping all bodies educated and to allow the barn’s construction to go as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Between the crowd-funding campaign and the very generous donations we received from alumni, the potential and excitement for the Barn Project is rising with every day. Now, we are working with facilities and administration to ensure that the project not only lives up to, but also exceeds the expectations of both the Cornell community and our donors. It was noted in our last meeting that thanks to these generous gifts, we have the opportunity to look at the project differently and facilitate future expansion through these first phases of construction.

Plans could be kept the same or could be evolved.

The original architectural plans for Phase 1 were designed to allow for future add-ons in Phases 2 and 3 of the project. Now that we potentially have the funds to construct more than just the first phase when we begin breaking ground, the design can be approached differently. Just from the crowdfunding alone, our student architects can now consider the potential for bigger windows, interior and exterior lighting, and/or insulation for the larger room (laid out in phase 1).

Before construction can begin, the code classifications of the facility must be determined by either a facilities engineer or an outside consultant. This will ensure that the barn meets all of the standards for safety and health. Given the nature of the space as both a place for tractor and produce storage, in addition to community gatherings, there are specific regulations that need to be met. Fortunately, we now have the team and resources in place to properly carry out this routine construction step.

After our last CALS administrative meeting, our main take away and goal was to clearly lay out a plan with cost requirements that includes not only the upfront construction cost, but also the expenses for consultants and long term maintenance. We will collect our data on project costs and articulate it in a concise way, similar to our phasing plan.  It was also crucial that we finalized our renderings of the barn (featured above) so that they can be presented during site plan approval meetings. This will allow the consulting contract and the Capital Funding Priorities Committee (CFPC) and the Building & Properties (B&P) approval to go through in a more timely manner. Our timeline anticipates that hopefully, both meetings will be completed by the end of August. In September, we will work with the university group to incorporate the Barn Project into the campus master plan. Pending on the success of this timeline, site selection could be done by October.

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Thank you!

Hello everyone,

On behalf of our entire team, thank you for your incredible support over the past month of our crowdfunding campaign.

Over the past 30 days, we have loved hearing the personal stories that past Dilmun Hill managers have shared with us, and have been blown away by the outpouring of support from our friends, families, and other Cornell alumni.

The crowdfunding support has expanded the design potential of the barn. Our options for windows, shelving and other interior elements are no longer restricted by our budget.

Again, this project will result in the first ever student-designed building on campus in Cornell’s history. We have been working so hard for the past year to drive our vision forward, and have come a long way from where we began last summer. We have built an incredible team of student architects, designers, engineers, and activists from the ground up, and cannot wait to see how the project will continue to evolve over the summer.

Please help us spread the word about this incredible project by sharing it on your social media accounts, telling your friends and family, or reaching out to any sustainability or design initiatives that you are part of.

Your donations and support have contributed towards a historic initiative that will forever change campus.

Thank you,

The Dilmun Hill Barn Project Team

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We are HALF way through our crowdfunding campaign!

With 15 days down and 15 to go, we have raised 71% of our goal. With the support and engagement of staff, Dilmun Alumni, and family, we have made enormous strides towards our goal.

William Lim is a Cornell Alumni who received a bachelor of architecture in 1981, and master of architecture and minor in photography in 1982 from Cornell University.  Lim made a very generous donation in honor of Architecture professor, Arthur Ovaska, who just recently passed away. Ovaska worked in the Cornell Architecture department for over three decades, impacting generations of students.

Ovaska was one of the many names recognized through donations. We are honored and truly humbled to bring the barn to life with so much heart and care behind us.

We need YOUR help to raise the remaining $2,125 dollars. Keep spreading the word!       We hope to engage all those whose values align with the Dilmun mission of environmentally friendly design, food accessibility, and sustainable agriculture.

Please help share our story.


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Only 22 days to go!

Thanks to the support of friends, family, and the Cornell community we have reached 30% of our goal in just 1 week!

Our crowdfunding campaign connected us with many Dilmun Alumni. They are so excited to see the farm growing and have been sending messages of excitement and support.

We have also had the opportunity to share the project with our friends and family. With the generous and thoughtful gifts, the barn project has a community of care and determination behind its success.

Help us to keep spreading the word! We have 3 weeks left and 70% of our goal to earn.

Check out our campaign at: https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/9600


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We are so excited that TODAY IS THE DAY our crowdfunding campaign launches!

Please watch our great video, read about the project, and support us!

Check out our campaign at:  https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/9600 

What will your money go towards, you ask?

All of the money goes DIRECTLY to the Dilmun Hill Barn Project and will be used this summer when we break ground! 

Material upgrades for Phases I-III (such as nicer siding materials like natural wood, and MORE WINDOWS) and the hardware needed for Phase IV so that we can make the barn net zero.

We hope that you will join us and come see what you help us achieve next time you are in Ithaca! This is going to be the first ever student-designed building in CORNELL HISTORY. Please feel free to reach out to anybody on our team with any questions that you have, or if you would like to donate hard goods to our project (for example, if you own something amazing like a solar panel company)!

Thank you to everyone who has helped us so far! Only a few hours in and we have almost reached $1,000! Please help us blow our goal out of the water and create the best barn that Cornell has seen!


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The Drawings are in!

Our architects have submitted the final working drawings for the barn!

After many rounds of review and critique, our architects have come to their final iteration of the barn’s design. Jeremy and Sasson, our two architects, have worked tirelessly to produce a cohesive product that embodies the demands of sustainable design, agricultural needs, and the Cornell University building standards.

The drawings we developed focused mainly on the facade details. Jeremy and Sasson worked towards finalizing the drawings for the barn, but expect to make other small changes as we get closer to approval. The facade provides an understanding of the spatial characteristics within the barn for viewers outside of it.

Our architects designed the structure for maximized natural lighting in the main space. This will minimize energy costs and will make for a pleasant, sunny community gathering point.

The last rendering depicts our plans for future phases. The success of our upcoming crowdfunding campaign is essential for the completion of phase 2 of the barn.

Now the drawings will go through the approval process so we can officially break ground this summer.

Check out the drawings!


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Film Shoot!

Yesterday we headed to the farm to film our Crowdfunding video

Adam Murtland, Assistant Director for Digital Content at Cornell, is working with us to create a video that tells our story and reflects the passion behind the Dilmun Hill Barn Project.

He compiled footage of the team members working together and one-on-one interviews where we talked about our individual roles and the overall mission of the project. Adam even captured drone shots of the farm. Now he will work to put it together into a concise 2 to 3 minute clip.

We are so excited for donors, family members and the wider Cornell Community to see and feel the heart behind our mission. We hope that it will inspire viewers to want to have a hand in the barn’s creation through donations and/or becoming involved in the project.

Look out for the release of the video next month!

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A New Partnership Arises

The Building Community has joined our mission

The club will re-use discarded lumber and other scrap materials found at Dilmun Hill and in the Ithaca community in order to construct new chairs, tables, and shelving for a variety of uses upon the barn’s completion next fall. Building Community shares a commitment to environmental sustainability and community engagement through their building projects and public workshops throughout the year.

Members of the student organization Building Community visited Dilmun Hill this past Saturday in preparation for designing furniture and storage for the new barn.

One of our team architects, Sasson Rafailov (’18), took the club members around the farm. He showed them the site plan to situate where the new barn will be placed in relation to the existing surroundings.

The original vision sheet (pictured above) established Dilmun Hill as community center for sustainable agricultural practices. This foundational principle continues to be the driving force for both the Dilmun farm and the barn project team members.

Other work by the Building Community

Last semester the team constructed the Sukkah on the art quad for Cornell Hillel
Roof of the Sukkah
Tool library constructed by and for the Building Community

You can follow Building Community on facebook to stay updated on their progress: https://www.facebook.com/cornell.building.community/

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Interview with Betsy Leonard Organic Farm Coordinator of Dilmun Hill

As Organic Farm Coordinator, Betsy Leonard has had and continues to have an invaluable role in the prosperity and growth of the Dilmun Hill Farm. Dedicating 20 hours a week for over 6 years and an unquantifiable amount of care to the farm, Betsy is core to the evolution and success of Dilmun.

Back in October we got the chance to sit down with her and learn about the timeline of Dilmun from its founding in 1997 to today. Betsy’s comprehensive knowledge of Dilmun and the farm’s founding goal to encourage student engagement with organic agriculture shaped and inspired the way we designed the new barn.  

Could you tell us about yourself, how you got involved with Dilmun, and the role you play at Dilmun?

I had been employed by Cornell before I worked with Dilmun, and had done a lot of work with students. I really enjoyed doing that. This job came up, and I decided that I really enjoyed working with students and wanted to more of it. I started six years ago now, almost seven.

The job description looked really good–

I would be overseeing the students here, making sure that what they do is in line with Cornell’s goals. I would keep them safe, but also let them try new things [with agriculture] and let them make mistakes. Learning by doing. “

What’s changed or hasn’t changed at Dilmun throughout the 21 years of its existence?

The students have remained the same–we always get 4 or 5 students every year [to manage the farm], and their level of experience varies. We don’t only take people who have experience because we want people to learn a lot while they’re here. We pick students [to become managers] based on how well they would work together. We don’t really pay that much attention to experience.

Anyone can have a chance to learn, and decide that this [farming] is something they want to do with their life.

What’s changed a lot is the facilities. We have done a lot of different things over the years. We built the high tunnel, we fixed all the irrigation, and we extended the fence around the Market Garden. Glenn and Gene [from CUAES] helped with all of those projects. We got a Towards Sustainability grant to reorganize what we used to call the Tortilla Flats, now called the Market Garden. 

Since I’ve been here, people in the administration [CUAES] have been really supportive. We have Glenn Evans now, he started at the same time I did. He’s helped us a lot, particularly with  funding projects.

We’ve continued to have really good people come and help us like Gene Shopansky from Campus Area Farms. The supervisor before Jim Dodge was very supportive too. 

[In terms of agricultural practices] we’ve always been shooting for raised, more permanent beds. We’ve been trying to do less tillage, but sometimes it doesn’t work out because Dilmun Hill is organic and don’t use any herbicides. Eventually, we’re going to have to turn the soil over, and that’s true of a lot of organic systems.

The crops have remained about the same, except a few extra that certain managers are interested in.

Could you talk about what equipment and  tools that we have and use throughout the season? What new equipment could be helpful?

I think students want to turn beds themselves in the spring, so that they don’t have to wait for somebody else to do it. That’s why Melissa Madden [the previous coordinator] got the BCS/Rototiller for Dilmun. Then we got the rotary plow to make beds. We’ve gotten a couple push seeders, which are fairly new. We’ve also built the high tunnel, which is a really good season extension tool. That’s been one of our major changes. 

[For weed management] we mostly rely on hand tools and volunteers to help us with weeding. 

I think that we could use the BCS more by getting a power harrow attachment. It mixes the soil on the top 3 or 4 inches of the ground. I’m going to ask for one of those during the equipment request period. The power harrow would make a really nice seed bed without actually turning the soil all the way over. 

We would benefit from having a better washing station, and that’s going to be coming on Tuesday. I ordered a three-sink washing station, and we’ll try to put that in the new barn. They’re pretty standard sizes, and I think they should fit in wherever we want to put them .

I think we should look into getting a mouse-proof drying area [for crops like garlic].  A large working cooler would also be great. We need to work on storage. We don’t have a great place to put our potatoes, our garlic, or our squash. Anything that needs cool or dry requires a pest-free area. 

How does Dilmun work with classes & educational events? Why do you think so many classes come here?

We’re a working farm, a student farm. We’re close by. We have challenging soils.We have lots of insects. Entomology classes come here because we don’t spray. We have lots of beneficial insects as well. We’re an agricultural school, so everything that students learn about in class, they can see in action and practice here.

Although managers, the steering members, and myself are willing to give tours to the classes that come to Dilmun, we have classes and other work to do. Maybe in the future, if we have a full-time manager it [tour guiding] could be a role they can play. However, sometimes [classes] really want a student to give the tour because it’s more interesting to hear about the students’ experience with the farm.

We would rather that everyone be able to come here. That’s our policy, that everyone is welcome here.

How do you foresee agricultural practices at Dilmun changing? What are other small farmers doing that are new?

I see Dilmun, if we move up to the top of the hill [when we build the new barn], use the tractor more. There was some interest in having a community garden section of Dilmun. I find that interesting because that would engage the student community more. That would be fun. We could have speakers and workshops focused on what’s happening in the community garden. I hope that the high tunnel soil will be in great condition. 

We see a lot of small farmers have the same permanent beds every year. Cover crops are really important, for both small and large farmers. Recently, farmers have become more interested in soil health. In the 60s, people did a lot of cover crops, but that might been more because of federal programs. Right now, more dairies are putting in cover crops.

How does the current barn accommodate the current functions of Dilmun? What are the shortcomings?

I really think we need a space where people can get out of the sun/rain, when classes are here or managers are working. I think having an overhang would be really good in the new structure for people to gather. If we had a shelter, or even an overhang on concrete, with benches and picnic tables,  that would be nice. We could also have a bigger tool room, and a place for dry storage for garlic  and squash that is rodent-proof. We could also use a better washing station that complies with the GAP [Good Agricultural Practices] standards,  and somewhere to put our equipment and tractor. We would  also  benefit from an office: a place to keep our records and books so that they’re more accessible for people on the farm. Right now a lot of books are in my office, and people don’t even know they’re there.

How could a new barn accommodate the shifts in agricultural practices, new equipment, as well as you/your role with Dilmun?

I’d like to be on the farm if we had an office and the Internet. I could do work such as order things for the student managers here, and be able to engage with them more frequently.

I think it would be helpful to have the barn up on the hill as we try to put the flat land into production and use the tractor. We could have places for people to practice driving the tractor, and cultivating with the implements that we have. I think that the barn up on the hill would be a good meeting place for us. We could have more groups come because a lot of people ask if we have a place for them to sit and talk before their lab [for classes];  they could come here and do everything.


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