Riley Farm – Providing Integrated Learning Experiences

Farmland that has been in Bob Riley’s family for more than 20 years has become a hands-on research and learning environment for Simpson College students.

Riley, president and chief executive officer of Feed Energy Company and a member of Simpson’s Board of Trustees, opened this 291-acre parcel of land in Marion County through a partnership with Simpson to provide professors and students a place to study and learn about a variety of issues.

“It’s a real gem of an opportunity and it offers something for just about any area of study from biology to sociology, from philosophy to history,” Riley said. “I’m especially excited about helping young people become familiar with environmental literacy – understanding how the environment has an impact on everything we do.”

Clint Meyer, associate professor of biology, knows the importance of experiencing the environment first hand. “All work in our department begins in the field, and having access like this to land in its natural state is critical to teaching and learning,” he said.

“We can take students out there for classes and put our classroom learning into practice immediately. The grasslands, forests and ponds are great opportunities for conducting research,” he continued.

The farm is approximately 22 miles from campus and it hasn’t been farmed in more than 30 years.

“We really don’t know very much about the history of the farm,” commented Riley’s son, Joe. “There are two old coal mines on the property, 120 feet of elevation changes and it’s bordered by White Breast Creek which provides a sanctuary for wildlife. It’s an ideal opportunity for a more meaningful way of learning the historical nuances of this farm.”

The land contains diverse plant species as well as a variety of wildlife that has been caught on camera, which excites Meyer.

“It’s an opportunity to contribute knowledge about wildlife ecology and habitat management through practices like controlled burns and replicated design,” he explained.

Additionally, a new barn is being built on the land and will be ready for use during the 2015-16 school year. The 32’ x 60’ structure will provide a space to keep equipment, allowing students to process samples and complete research on site.

And it’s more than a place for research. Other uses could include high school field trips, hosting conferences, student organization meetings, and retreats for various departments of the college. The barn is being funded through a grant from Cargill Foundation for environmental education.

John Pauley, professor of philosophy, hopes to see the facility used in a variety of ways. “First year students at Simpson typically go to Wesley Woods for an adventure day when they arrive for fall classes,” he explained. “Now we can take them here.”

Pauley also sees opportunities for the philosophy department to benefit from the use of the land and the barn. “A hands-on component to our environmental ethics class will be fantastic.”

“We are deeply grateful to the Riley family for their leadership, vision and generosity,” said Simpson President Jay Simmons. “This learning environment is unique and special. It provides unmatched opportunities for our students and broader campus community.”

Joe Riley added, “All wealth comes from the land, including a wealth of knowledge. We are very excited to partner with Simpson to educate the next generation on the importance of the environment.”