The farm is flourishing again at Solusi University.
Just three years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist school near Bulawayo in southwestern Zimbabwe was on the brink of sending its more than 3,000 students home because of a massive food shortage following government price controls.
Now, with financial assistance from sister institutions oversees, a functioning farm is enabling the school's students and staff to eat three meals a day, up from only one meal per day last year, according to Adventist Church leaders in the United Kingdom.
In addition to a fully stocked pantry on campus, Solusi's farm surplus has raised $20,000 since November, said Don McFarlane, president of the Adventist Church in the UK.
"The farm shop was one of the busiest centers on campus," McFarlane said following a visit to the university last month.
McFarlane visited the campus in April of 2009, discovering food in short supply. He said university President Norman Maphosa asked for help in resurrecting the school's farm. Irrigation and other equipment hadn't been maintained and were dilapidated.
The farm was a staple of the school's roots -- in 1912, thousands of bags of maize were harvested, according to the Adventist Encyclopedia. More recently, a seven-mile pipe from a dam supplied the school with water during the 1992 drought that struck Southern Africa.
Even so, the nearly 9,000-acre farm fell into disrepair over the years. In 2007, Adventist colleges and universities in North America raised tens of thousands of dollars for emergency food relief to keep the school running following a national food shortage. The plan was to assist the school for six months to a year.
After McFarlane's April 2009 visit, officials from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency asked Solusi to submit a proposal for assistance. ADRA Zimbabwe worked with the university to adequately prepare a request of US$250,000. The plans were thorough and included necessary details, from fertilizers to a modern center pivot irrigation system. ADRA offices in Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK and the international office at the U.S.-based church's headquarters all contributed to reach the goal.
Following his visit to Solusi last month, McFarlane said he was impressed by the progress, seeing fields of onions, cabbage, tomatoes and more than 1,000 chickens. Earlier this year during harvest, Solusi's farm manager reported the school had raised maize, beans, sweet potatoes, mangoes, tangelos, naartjies, watermelons and sugar cane.
Today, the school is employing community members to work alongside students in the fields. The school, already the nation's largest private university, is positioning itself as the top agricultural training program. Already, school farm workers are offering technical training to owners of smaller farms nearby.
The institution has a history of outreach in the region. In 1894, the prime minister of Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes, grated the land to Adventist missionaries to establish a mission among the Matabele people. A farm was planted within a year, according to the Adventist Encyclopedia. Several years later, missionaries took care of 30 children a region-wide famine had left destitute. They formed the nucleus of the first school at Solusi.