Life in the Outback
A place that allows students and the people of Bellingham to collaborate and meet others, essentially… a community. This place is nestled in the midst of apartments, soccer fields, busy roads and students rushing to class. Hidden behind tall bushes of blackberries and long vines of ivy toppling over the fence lives the Outback Farm. It is constantly filled with life of all kinds, whether that is a small bee rushing from plant to flower or a local volunteer digging their hands in the soil, this place has many purposes. However; as a student at Western Washington University in the great Northwest, I find the community that the farm provides to be vital for the life on campus.
The Outback is rather distinct compared to other farms, such as the one in your local home town, due to its variety of users and features. Ranging from university students to children from a nearby elementary school, this farm offers more than just produce and product. Our place here on campus provides a lot to its visitors and carries many characteristics.
From the south entrance, a visitor would most likely notice the herb garden, the big wooden gate and lively bees buzzing around with places to go and flowers to pollenate! One could almost imagine Etta James singing her classic hit, “Feeling Good” smoothly in the background:
“Birds flying high, you know how I feel, sun in the sky, you know how I feel. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life, for me…and I’m feeling good.”
([Recorded by N. S.]. (1965))
If you have never heard this song, I highly advise for you to stop everything you are doing in this moment and put some headphones in to enjoy the deep and soulful voice that has been adored for many years now. It is well-worth your time.
As you continue along the yellow bark covered path, several large gardening plots make up the education garden where food is produced for helpers and the food bank. To the left, a greenhouse stands constructed by students in the 1990’s, and chickens trot around in their oasis nearby (Associated Students). This part of the farm, filled with small individual plots, functions as the student community garden, a space where all scholars are welcome to contribute to the creation of food on campus.
Yet, the term “farm” does not simply imply gardens and animals in this situation; it represents many years of history and student collaboration. With a shed for all of the hardy tools necessary for getting down and dirty, as well as the outdoor classroom for Outbackers and others. This area allows students to learn, share, and bring their ideas together, in addition to providing a peaceful space to “finish homework, read a book, or enjoy the birds” as Mathew Kaminski explained, a volunteer whom I interview for my podcast about the Outback (Life in the Outback). My favorite place to hang out is the amphitheater, completed in 2004. It emerges from the thicket of trees, a place where small-local concerts and events are held (Associated Students).
Each section of the farm works together in developing a healthy circle that demonstrates cooperation between all living things among the space. The farm itself changes with the alternating seasons, yet its dynamics remain consistent. In the summer, honey is collected from the bee hives, while flowers, berries and other crops are harvested. The winter brings squash and nourishing rainfall to the soil, as well as a time for reconstruction and maintenance. Although the Outback’s activity changes within the year, people continue to come, no matter the season, to work together and share with each other generous words and skills.
The farm has evolved much over time and its history continues to grow. Starting as Lummi territory, it thereafter became property of Fairhaven College. It was initially intended for parking lots and dorms until students fought to protect the space and preserve the natural wetlands in the 1980’s (Associated Students).
Since the 1980’s people with a passion to protect what we have left of the natural earth have been working together in this small five acre space. This farm, rather minor in size but large in affect, encourages students and members of the Bellingham community to communicate and work together resulting in strong connections. These connections create a healthy environment within campus life, where students can feel safe. You can leave the campus feeling, “zenful” as Ryan Schluter described, another student I interviewed who enjoys spending time in the farm (R.S. 2016).
Although the Outback has been thriving over the past forty-five years, there are still many who have yet to visit or do not know about it. This is an issue because it needs students to survive. Without volunteers the farm could not be maintained. Thankfully, more work parties are being put into action to raise awareness.
While this issue may be due to a deficiency of advertisement, I also think it is in part a result of minimal curiosity demonstrated towards the farm by students. Coming from personal experience, I believe that students here on campus, as well as those in Bellingham, do not fully take advantage of all the farm has to offer.
So, why is it so important to use this resource? What benefits does the Outback bring to its small community?
Well… coming from someone who thoroughly enjoys making connections with others, I find community (yes I have said this many, many times…sorry, it’s just such a good word!) to be so important. Especially places, such as Western, where many young adults are starting to discover who they are, their passions in life, and experiencing what it is like to live independently. Normally, when attending a University, students are away from home, family, and friends. So, to have a place to go where you can experience something like the feeling of home is really helpful for people such as myself. I found an article online that talks about what happens when there is a lack of community. The article explains that:
“With our society moving at a faster and more detached manner due to technology, busy schedules and the frequency at which we change jobs, homes and locations, it makes it harder and harder to feel any sense of community. It is too easy to become isolated in our homes and yet isolation tends to beget a sense of loneliness and depression not to mention the breakdown that can occur in communities due to a detachment from others — increased violence, substance abuse, mental illness and so forth.” (APS Healthcare)
Without the farm, this University would still be a good school, but who wants to go to a good school when they can go to an awesome school? The Outback makes this campus, in particular, unique and strengthens the connections between members here on campus. So, if you are a civilian of Bellingham, or better yet a student at Western, I recommend stopping by the farm the next time you have a chance. Grab a shovel, take a walk through the lovely forest, or just enjoy the lovely flora and fauna. If you are not anywhere near Bellingham or possibly don’t even live in the United States, consider a place near you that is similar to the Outback farm. Maybe a local organization or club, or find a way to build your own community!