Kale to the Victors
Donor support brings farm-to-table produce to campus dining halls
What’s it take to get farm-to-table produce served up in campus dining halls? A lot of bright students, a healthy plot of land, and heaps of generous support (or seed funding, if you will).
The Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens serves the greater University of Michigan community with educational and research opportunities related to the production of sustainable food. The program began as a student-led project in 2012, soon partnering with the botanical gardens and Nichols Arboretum to become a fully-fledged, student-run farming project.
“The Campus Farm has become a centerpiece for Matthaei-Nichols, of our commitment to environmental sustainability, and to our desire to engage students and classes in hands-on learning,” says Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese. Grese, the Theodore Roosevelt Professor of Ecosystem Management and a professor of natural resources, helps oversee the student-run farm. Thanks to the partnership, Campus Farm now serves as a multi-stakeholder living-learning lab for students and a source of fresh, sustainably grown produce for the campus community. The farm prides itself on producing food for students, by students.
In 2017, U-M donors provided funding that allowed for the addition of two new hoop houses, enhancements to infrastructure, and equipment that allowed Campus Farm to achieve Good Agricultural Practices certification. That means that food grown on the farm (kale, chard, peppers, tomatoes, and more) can now be served right back to U-M students in dining halls across campus. With sales at the M Farmers Markets and at the alumni-owned Argus Farm Stop, Campus Farm produce also makes its way into the local community. Argus owners Bill Brinkerhoff (BSEIO ’87, MSE ’89, MBA ’89) and Kathy Sample (MBA ’89) are among Campus Farm’s numerous benefactors.
And the farm cultivates more than just produce. It’s where theory and practice come together in a physical space, serving as the site for class visits, student engagement and leadership, and research projects in a wide range of fields. At the farm, students become active citizens and leaders. They learn to challenge the present and enrich the future, not only in terms of agriculture, but also in broad and interconnected issues of justice, equity, and the environment.
“We face complex challenges for transforming food systems toward environmental sustainability and social justice,” said Jennifer Blesh, assistant professor of natural resources and environment. “To help students develop these competencies and skills, we need to increase opportunities for engaged and experiential learning about agriculture and all aspects of the food system.”
Along with its collaborative partners, the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program and the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative, the farm is elevating U-M as a world-class center for 21st-century scholarly research, teaching, and engagement in sustainable food systems. Up to 50 students volunteer at the farm each week, and 10 to 15 faculty members from across campus are involved with the farm through teaching, research, and special projects. With the Campus Farm gaining in size and support each year, the gains reaped by students will only continue to grow.