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Cultivating the Local Environment

by Ellen Mitchell

Each spring, students in the Environmental Studies Program’s Senior Integrative Experience (SIE) explore the intersection of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. This year’s SIE students, led by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Beth Kinne and Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Tom Drennen, were among the first to visit White Springs Farm as part of their coursework.

Located less than a mile from campus on White Springs Lane in the Town of Geneva, the property has operated as a dairy farm, a fruit farm and rotating crop farm—and now offers a wealth of possibilities for experiential learning.

When local agricultural innovator, entrepreneur and philanthropist Carl W. Fribolin L.H.D. ’14 and his partner Elizabeth Mitchell donated the more than 35 acres to the Colleges earlier this year, President Mark D. Gearan appointed a committee of faculty, staff and students to imagine the broad potential for the property’s future.

The 18 students in this year’s SIE augmented the Farm Committee’s proposals for the farmland and the grounds, which include a barn, stables, spring-fed ponds, an indoor equestrian ring, a family of ducks and even a 23 year-old horse. Along with the donation of the farm, valued at more than $500,000, the Colleges purchased a home on the property. In honor of Fribolin’s donation, the Colleges will rename it Fribolin Farms.

“Many, many departments will benefit from this new opportunity,” Drennen says. “Biology, geology, environmental studies, our emerging food studies program, which often focuses on local food and social justice—this generous gift allows HWS to do all kinds of grounded, hands-on activities.”

“It’s a beautiful piece of property that deserves to be maintained and we sincerely believe that the Colleges will do that,” Fribolin says. “Hobart and William Smith have a history of responsible land stewardship. Elizabeth and I wanted the same kind of treatment for this property. Donating it to the Colleges will ensure that it remains agricultural.”

One group in the SIE course considered how to best use the house and barns. Other groups discussed how to use the farmland, which is certified organic.

“There are so many possibilities for what the Colleges and community could do with the space,” says Haleigh Marshall ’14, a double major in environmental science and geoscience. “What’s interesting to note is that so many suggestions have to do with making things better for Geneva such as growing crops for food pantries or starting an afterschool program. At the same time, we don’t want to infringe on projects that are already under way at places like the Geneva Community Center.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Robb Flowers, who is a member of the Committee, says that “over the course of the next year or so, we anticipate that we’ll be able to begin developing some ideas and priorities.”

Ideas include the cultivation of heirloom crops, native crops and grape vines for a winery as well as a greenhouse and beehives to pollinate crops. The opportunity for renewable energy is also under discussion, including potentially installing solar panels and a small, spring-fed hydroelectric generator, to contribute to the Colleges’ goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2020. This fall, 56 students will regularly visit the farm as part of the firstyear seminar “Consuming the World.”

Whichever direction or directions the Farm takes, the Colleges intend to embrace the opportunity to expand learning beyond the traditional classroom.

“I am very grateful to Carl and Elizabeth for this extraordinary gift and the educational opportunities it will provide generations of Hobart and William Smith students,” says Gearan. “They have made the preservation of the Finger Lakes region a priority. This thoughtful gift will allow HWS to create innovative, experiential curricula that will give students hands-on experiences in the value of this area and the deep responsibility we all have to ensure its future.”

The donation of the Farm to HWS is the largest charitable gift that Fribolin has made to one institution.

Throughout his life, Fribolin has been instrumental in both revitalizing land and sustaining the arts in the region. After graduating from Cornell University in 1940, Fribolin founded Seedway, a seed-growing and distribution business. Fribolin sold the business to Agway, Inc. in 1987, but not before he had established six new seed production farms throughout the northeast.

In 1973, Fribolin purchased White Springs Farm in Geneva. In 2003, he planted 13 acres of grapes, creating White Springs Winery. Those 13 acres have since become 40 and are populated by a variety of grapes and are a separate operation from what is now the Colleges’ property.

Fribolin is a member of the Geneva Arts Development Council Board and a board member and past vice president of the Smith Opera House. As co-chair of the Smith’s Restoration Endowment Projects, Fribolin led a team of community members in restoring the Smith Opera House to its intended state as one of the most historic and recognizable theatres in the Finger Lakes. An honorary member of the Finger Lakes Health Foundation, Fribolin is also trustee emeritus of Keuka College. In 2008, HWS honored Fribolin and his work on behalf of the region with the President’s Medal.

For his incomparable role as a community leader and contributor to the cultural fabric of the Finger Lakes, the Colleges conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on Fribolin during Commencement 2014.