By Logan McGrady, ’13. Originally appeared in the early fall 2014 issue of Michigan Alumnus Magazine. All photos courtesy of the Campus Farm.
Nestled in a small corner of Matthaei Botanical Gardens is one of U-M’s best-kept secrets—the Campus Farm. Walk past a leafy field and you will find a terraced stone spiral serving as an herb garden. It is here that student volunteers discover a small tragedy—all the thyme has died.
“I guess it was just their ‘thyme,”‘ sophomore Olivia Barahall jokes as she presses forward to plant a hardier crop of potatoes. Farm-related puns are big here. “Kale to the Victors” even made it to a T-shirt.
This one-acre space is the outcome of the University’s 2011 Sustainability Integrated Assessment, which found that many peer institutions already had campus farms. The assessment recommended a farm that would not only bring the University up to speed in terms of sustainability, but also provide a space for hands-on learning.
Professor Michael Shriberg’s undergraduate class Sustainability and the Campus spent two semesters exploring the feasibility of such a project. Graduate students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment continued the undergraduates’ efforts and made the farm a reality in the summer of 2012. Shriberg, MS’00, PhD’02, attributes the farm’s quick development to the students involved.
“I’m shocked because this is a big institution, and it can take a long time to move,” says Shriberg. “But, at the same time, I’m not because the students coalesced around the issue, developed a smart strategy, and were absolutely relentless—I mean that in a good way—in their pursuit of this.”
With a $42,000 grant from U-M’s Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, the farm took root.
“We just winged it the whole summer,” says Allyson Green, MS’14. “We got a small Project Help grant from Bank of Ann Arbor to get seeds that year because we weren’t allowed access to our Planet Blue funds until we hired a staff person. We grew in 600 square feet and logged more than 700 volunteer hours that summer. We showed the University that we wanted to make it happen.”
The hard-working volunteers have ways of sharing their effort with students
“We’re doing this by selling to various student housing co-ops; the Student Buying Association, which buys for many of the co-ops and Greek houses; and by selling at M Farmers Markets put on by the University” says summer manager Jacob Kornfeld. “In the fall, we will also sell produce through the Student Food Company, a student group that sets up a farm stand on campus to provide students easy access to fresh, healthy food.”
The farm’s priority remains educating the community about sustainable food. Shriberg believes they are doing just that.
“One thing that has come in part because of their efforts is a new minor in sustainable food. You can’t say that is only because of the Sustainable Food Program, but it has helped bring in faculty who then have the capacity to create new academic programs—something that is normally beyond the reach of students.”