by Eric Ginsburg
If I had smoked weed in college, seeing students hunched over rows of turnips or harvesting bok choy here would be a much more surreal experience. But during the last half-dozen years or so, this expanse formally known as the Meadows — where Guilford College students used to emerge from the campus woods to blaze in peace — has transformed into a serene experiential classroom.
There’s only one dedicated staff member who oversees the Guilford Farm — Nick Mangili — but increasing buy-in from the college has encouraged the farm to grow. Students in an Agriculture Revolutions senior seminar are assigned a fieldwork component, and their peers arrive for work-study and for community-service credit hours. There’s a proposed sustainable-foods major, Mangili said, a new sustainable-agriculture practicum and support staff, and last year’s senior class gift consisted of fruit trees and shrubs to add to the blossoming collection.
Situated between several plots of food and not far from a greenhouse and high tunnel sits a home under construction, a symbol of the school’s commitment to the venture. When it’s completed, Mangili, his wife Audrey and their dog will move in.
The house is a short walk from the school’s mushroom-growing operation, and on the way you pass by an unused hill that Mangili plans to turn into a small orchard. A little farther up the path, the trees give way to another field where kale, mustard greens and shoots grow, accompanied by several chickens and two beekeeping stacks.
Mangili has been in the position for just a year and a half, arriving at Guilford College after stints at various breweries. He joined the now-illustrious Fullsteam Brewing team a few months before the Durham brewery opened, later taking a job at Deep Ellum Brewing Co. in Dallas, where he briefly acted as head brewer. Later, back in North Carolina, he worked with the start-up Haw River Farmhouse Ales in Saxapahaw, easily one of the best breweries in this beer-saturated state.
But commuting from Greensboro, where Audrey was attending UNCG, grew tiresome, and Mangili found a gig in another one of his passions — farming.
The couple actually met while working at Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough. Some mornings, Mangili would feed the pigs before heading over to Fullsteam, and then return to the farm to keep working. All of his knowledge about growing food and caring from animals came from first-hand experience, Mangili said, with the benefit of searching for information sporadically online.
But his inspiration for farming came from his Italian grandparents, who ran a family farm in California. In addition to Coon Rock Farm, Mangili and his wife also spent 10 months traveling the country, learning about organic farms as they went. After trying his hand in it, Mangili became obsessed with the self-sufficiency aspect of farming, and his enjoyment is palpable.
In a way, his dual interests in brewing and farming make sense: Both are compatible with that DIY ethic as well as the joys of experimentation. Though he isn’t sure if he’ll ever fully return to brewing, Mangili continues to homebrew, and recently attempted a beer/cider mix using pears. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in homebrew forums, he said, so he and Audrey decided to try it. They’re waiting to see how it will come out.
The Guilford Farm is a constant experimentation process as well — they’ve tried growing peanuts, had to troubleshoot sweet potatoes and are nurturing a small permaculture section. There’s a chance the number of chickens will soon multiply to 40, and a student who recently traveled to Cuba is talking about introducing a farming technique that would allow the farm to grow salad greens in the summer.
All of that suits Mangili, but it’s also easy to see how it benefits students (especially if you compare it to what my classmates did in these fields during my tenure at the school). The half-dozen students out at the farm around 9:30 a.m. on a recent Thursday were into it, chatting as they cut Swiss chard and joking about a student whose car got stuck in the mud near the mushroom operation.
It’s not just that the farming is educational or enjoyable though — it’s also practical. The bulk of what’s grown winds up in the college’s cafeteria, managed by a small company called Meriwether Godsey. And I have to say, after eating in the dining hall for several years and then again on Monday, it’s gotten pretty fantastic.
The school also sells its products, like carrots and salad greens, to Lucky 32, Bestway grocery, Deep Roots grocery co-op and at an on-campus CSA. Profits from the on-campus sales help cover a mobile market that students run at Glenhaven, an apartment complex in Greensboro that’s mostly inhabited by Nepalese and Bhutanese refugees and where students in the Bonner Scholars program are already active, Mangili said.
For a brief moment, as I watched Mangili and students bent over neighboring rows of Swiss chard and bok choy, I wanted to join them. If the farm had been in full swing during my days at Guilford College, I thought, maybe I would’ve made it out to the Meadows after all. But better yet, I decided, I can eat the fruits and vegetables grown there. And maybe Mangili will let me try that cider/beer when it’s done.
Contact Nick Mangili at the Guilford College Farm at [email protected]