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 by 2025. When students made their first delivery of Campus Farm fresh produce to Mosher Jordan dining hall in 2017, “local” achievement became “on campus” and began a year-round, full circle system of growing, delivering and recycling student-produced food.
That partnership recently reached a notable milestone when the Campus Farm reached its shared goal with MDining of supplying $100,000 worth of produce to MDining halls in 2019. Total Sales to MDining since the Campus Farm began in summer 2017 is $24,000 and $55,000 in 2018, for a grand total of $186,000.
More than 20 to 50 students participate in workdays 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 2017.
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 now part of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum where it is located. The Farm continues to operate as a multi-stakeholder collaborative project with UMSFP, Sustainable Food Systems Initiative (SFSI) faculty and staff, MDining and others. Over the past 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 and the Maize and Blue Donation Garden at Ginsberg.
On the farm students from across-the-board disciplines, who are interested in sustainability and environmental stewardship, work together to produce seasonal 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 be used on the farm, Turchan says.
Year-round production using a passive-solar hoophouse helps the farm’s production continue throughout the year and increase the opportunities for students to engage in the farm during the school year. The farm has a total of four hoophouses that help 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, the Campus Farm program manager.
“It’s a conversation starter and an engaged learning lab that provides authentic, high-impact teaching, learning and research as well as hands-on leadership development opportunity for students while raising awareness of food issues on campus. 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.