A growing partnership...

Susan Thwing
Release Date: 

Student-grown Campus Farm produce now served at MDining halls  

Food production and the environment, human health, food safety and food justice … all of these concerns are part of the University of Michigan’s sustainability goal of purchasing 20 percent locally sourced food for MDining halls by 2025. When students made their first delivery of Campus Farm fresh produce to Mosher Jordan dining hall last month, this “local” achievement became “on campus”  and begins a year-round, full circle system of growing, delivering and recycling student-produced food.

This milestone achievement of involving students from seed to table, and back again via composting, was highlighted in a recent MLive article.   

More than 20 to 50 students volunteer at the farm each week, engaging in hands-on learning about sustainable farming, the environment, equality, and issues of justice surrounding food. The Campus Farm was able to begin supplying its produce to MDining after attaining its USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety certification in June.

And students -- both participants in the Campus Farm as well as those enjoying the delicious results -- are learning hands-on lessons about food production, being an engaged consumer, and sources of essential nutrition. In addition, some may be learning a new career skill to meet a declining profession -- according to the USDA Census of Agriculture, over the next 25 years two-thirds of all farmland will need a new farmer and only 6 percent of farmers are under the age of 35.

The Campus Farm is a year-round, student-run greenhouse and farm space that launched in 2012. It was founded by the University of Michigan Sustainable Food program (UMSFP) and is a multi-stakeholder collaborative project of UMSFP, Sustainable Food Systems Initiative (SFSI) faculty and staff, and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, where the farm is located.  Over the past 5 years the farm has been building its soil and its infrastructure to grow primarily vegetables and herbs.  With UMSFP and others it also helps support several satellite gardens on campus including one at East Quad residence hall.

On the farm students from across-the-board disciplines, who are interested in sustainability and environmental stewardship, work together to produce seasonable vegetables such as kale, swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and much more.  

“Sustainability is what students want,” says MDining Executive Chef Frank Turchan. “Students want fresh and local items and the chefs are excited to use better and tastier ingredients. At the same time, we need to find ways to lower our carbon footprint. We can now use local food from our own campus to lead conversations nationally on the importance of a more sustainable food system. Purchasing food that students grew, student-employees prepared, and students consume is a win-win-win.”

This partnership also creates a complete loop: students are growing the food, which is then prepared and served by students to fellow students in the dining halls. Any food waste is turned into compost which can  then used on the farm, Turchan says.  

Campus Farm was able to begin supplying its produce to dining halls after attaining its USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety certification.  This effort was in part made possible by the addition of a covered produce wash station built by volunteers and student farmers.

Year-round production using a passive-solar hoophouse will help the farm’s production continue throughout the year and increase the opportunities for students to engage in the farm during the school year.  Plans are to build two more hoophouses this year that will increase production and student participation while providing fresh greens for use in the dining halls all winter long.

In addition to providing seasonal produce to their fellow students, student farm staff are participating in a valuable learning experience regarding food cultivation, our current food system, and sustainability, explains Jeremy Moghtader, farm manager.

“It’s a conversation starter and creates a hands-on leadership development opportunity for students while raising awareness of food issues. It also has the potential to ensure that U-M students learn to be engaged citizens, and are more aware of the impact of food systems on public health, the health of the environment and our economy as well as the opportunities to be leaders and creative problem solvers in that space ,” Moghtader says.