Growing Sustainable Food and Farming Efforts on College Campuses

In 2008, The Duke Endowment made its first collective grant to four institutions of higher learning to support their efforts to create environmentally sustainable college campuses. As a part of their sustainability work, the schools named in Mr. Duke’s Indenture of Trust — Davidson College, Duke University, Furman University and Johnson C. Smith University — each developed opportunities to explore sustainable food and farming on their campuses. The Duke Endowment has invested nearly $3 million to help support those efforts.


In today’s world, hunger, obesity, agriculture and the environment, and food safety/security are pressing issues. On college campuses, students are looking for ways to engage in environmental leadership and study sustainable practices. Many students want active roles in increasing awareness, furthering research and testing solutions.


In 2012, The Duke Endowment awarded $325,000 jointly to the four campuses to pursue their interests in food and farming.  From 2013 to 2016, each campus received an additional $75,000 annually to further those efforts.

The Endowment brings the institutions together for monthly conference calls and sustainability summits, encouraging the ongoing sharing of best practices and resources and helping the schools take advantage of collaboration opportunities.

In recent years, the schools have expanded their farm and food programs – not only for supplying locally grown produce for campuses, but also for academic research opportunities and connections to the broader community.

Campus Highlights

Davidson College

Davidson used Endowment funding to create a farm, complete with a greenhouse, irrigation system and high tunnels (hoop greenhouses). The farm sells its harvest to the college dining hall and other campus eateries to generate operating revenue. The Farm at Davidson also works with eating houses and the coffee shop on campus to collect compost to fertilize crops.

The farm is a base for student and faculty research, lab work, community-based learning, group projects, and independent studies. It also provides opportunities for campus employment and internships, including food sustainability internships. The college now has a Bee Club, a Food Action Week, and a small community supported agriculture (CSA) program for faculty and staff.

Davidson also is developing a “dynamic digital environment” that uses the web and a corresponding smartphone application to connect the campus farm, dining services, composting activities, local farms, area restaurants and the Davidson community. During the 2014-2015 academic year, six courses incorporated food and sustainability in the digital environment into their syllabi:

  • Digital Anthropology
  • Foundations in Analytical Environmental Chemistry
  • Food Literature
  • Environmental Social Sciences
  • Urban Geography
  • Citizens, Consumers, and the Environment

Duke University

The Duke Campus Farm grows and harvests food for Duke's dining halls, local restaurants, and a CSA program, with the help of two full-time staff members, an undergraduate and graduate farm crew and public workdays. In addition, the farm provides a venue for course collaborations and research for faculty and students. 

Duke University has used Endowment funding to strengthen the farm’s infrastructure. New high tunnels, a walk-behind tractor and a drip irrigation system have increased production and efficiency, and helped to better match the growing season with the academic year, thus engaging more students. The farm is also a hub for academics, working with 19 courses in 2014-2015.

In 2015, the Endowment provided a grant of $500,000 to help the university explore the creation of a World Food Policy Center at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Furman University

With support from the Endowment, Furman faculty, students, and community partners have engaged with more than 30 food and farming related research projects, classes and laboratory activities, and community partnerships. Areas of research include exploring Carolinas' food deserts, soil composition, biodiversity, perceptions of farmers and their marketability for their yields, and the technical aspects of area farms. Furman works directly with over 100 area farmers and farmers markets.

Furman participates as a founding partner in the Live Well Greenville initiative and operates a CSA for the campus and local communities. It also is working with a mobile market that delivers fresh produce from the farm to surrounding food deserts.

Johnson C. Smith University

Johnson C. Smith’s Sustainability Village integrates academic coursework, research, service learning and experiential education opportunities. The Sustainability Village features a campus garden and an aquaponic garden, and is focusing its efforts on building community partnerships and providing fresh produce to nearby residents. The gardens also aid in recycling and waste reduction efforts. 

Through its Center for Renewable Energy & Sustainability, the university also is beginning to study energy use, water consumption and other aspects of food and farming, and is creating an undergraduate minor in sustainability.

In 2014, the university conducted a seven-week environmental leadership workshop, featuring its food and farming operations. That same year, the school’s director of sustainability efforts led a group of students to Camp Barbancourt, Haiti, in partnership with Joseph’s Exchange and the Haiti Missions Service, to replicate the aquaponic garden and share lessons learned.

Participating Sites

North Carolina

  • Davidson College, Davidson
  • Duke University, Durham
  • Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte

South Carolina

  • Furman University, Greenville


Area of Work

  • Campus and community engagement

Program Area

  • Higher Education

Grantmaking Status

The Endowment is continuing to work through current grantees and is not accepting new applications.

Areas of Work

  • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

    To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

  • Out-of-home care for youth

    To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

  • Quality and safety of health care

    Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

  • Access to health care

    Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

  • Prevention

    Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

  • Academic excellence

    Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

  • Educational access and success

    Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

  • Campus and community engagement

    Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

  • Rural church development

    Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

  • Clergy leadership

    Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

  • Congregational outreach

    Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities