Learning Freely: Farming for Community (and College Credit)

Learning Freely is a series about ordinary people creating powerful opportunities for themselves at The Evergreen State College.


Submitted by The Evergreen State College

Beau Gromley was in the 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he started building backyard gardens with Olympia’s Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB). As an active-duty service member, volunteering helped him reconnect with the land and build community outside the military.

Beau Gromley was in the 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he started building backyard gardens with Olympia’s Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB). Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

Injured during one of his final deployments in Afghanistan, Beau says gardening helped him heal from the stress of combat as he transitioned out of the military. In the garden, he could focus on cultivating life as he adjusted. At the same time, he was searching for a career that would help him keep his hands in the dirt.

“At first I thought I had to go from federal job to federal job and work somewhere like the Environmental Protection Agency,” he says. “But in the Olympia community, if you express an interest in nature and the outdoors and wanting to go to college, everyone’s first suggestion is The Evergreen State College.

That led Beau to connect with Evergreen’s Veterans Resource Center where he learned more about the college’s academic structure and the resources he would have access to as a veteran. Because he knew what he wanted out of his education already, he liked how much freedom he would have at Evergreen. After discovering he could take classes at the college’s Organic Farm—which has prepared students to own and operate their own small-scale organic farms since 1992—he knew he wanted to enroll.

“Deciding to go to Evergreen was a turning point,” he says. “Coming from the military, seminars in and of themselves blew my mind. To be able to sit with people from all walks of life and really have open, honest and tough conversations was eye-opening. I grew as a person.”

Beau was still volunteering with GRuB as an Evergreen student when he learned about the Victory Farm, a project they were planning with the Thurston County Food Bank. It was going to be a space for veterans, active-duty service members, and their families to grow food and community at the same time. They sent out a call for proposals for the farm design.

So, he joined a Student-Originated Studies (SOS) program—one form of independent learning at Evergreen—and submitted a proposal for the urban farm in Lacey. GRuB accepted his proposal and brought him on as an intern to help build the Victory Farm.

Throughout his project, Beau was in community with other Evergreen students—all of whom were pursuing their own agriculture-related projects. He received support from his faculty and peers as he helped build a space where veterans would work together to grow food for others. It was a perfect match.

Recently graduated, Beau is now working as GRuB’s community food solutions manager and continues to operate the Victory Farm. “For me, it’s all about the community,” he says. “That’s why I’m here.”

He attributes his success in part to the freedom he had as a student to incorporate his passion with his studies. Whether you’re a farmer like Beau or have another career in mind, you can do the same at Evergreen. Check out The Evergreen State College website to find out how.

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