Born out of the University of Michigan’s commitment to advancing food justice and sustainability and fueled by the dedication of students, two unique student-led food-based initiatives grew and thrived – Campus Farm and Maize and Blue Cupboard. Both of these organizations originated from the UM Sustainable Food Program, embarking on parallel paths, bound together by a commitment to these shared principles.
Located at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the Campus Farm was officially established in 2012. It aimed to do more than just grow food; it was a hub for students to learn and lead. With a focus on sustainability and equity in food systems, the Campus Farm became a dynamic learning community where students could develop leadership skills and engage in impactful, hands-on experiences through food grown by students for students.
On the other side of campus, Maize and Blue Cupboard, affectionately known as MBC, emerged as a symbol of hope for students facing food insecurity on campus. Initially conceived as a student organization, it had evolved into a full-fledged food pantry through support from the university, with UM Student Life providing not just the space but also the dedicated staff required to ensure its success. MBC has become a lifeline for many students, offering essential food supplies to those facing difficult times.
Fresh, locally grown produce from the Campus Farm, ready to support Maize and Blue Cupboard. Image credit: Jeremy Moghtader
With the clear overlap in mission, a collaboration between the two organizations was quickly forged, with Campus Farm sending excess food to the pantry on a regular basis. This year, however, Campus Farm’s involvement with MBC deepened significantly. To enhance their partnership, the farm’s leadership got creative – instead of simply dispatching surplus produce, they began providing MBC with a curated shopping list of fresh, locally grown items, allowing those at the pantry to choose the items that were most needed. This approach would enable MBC to offer a more balanced and well-rounded selection of food options to the students who relied on their services.
The collaboration goes beyond just handling logistics. In the spirit of community, the Maize and Blue Cupboard arranges volunteer days at Campus Farm, inviting students who are willing to lend a hand in support of this initiative. Campus Farm not only provides transportation to the volunteers but also works alongside them in harvesting the week’s produce. This effort has strengthened the bond between these two organizations and brought the participating students closer together, all sharing a common goal of addressing food insecurity and promoting sustainable practices.
Each week, the food harvested by these volunteers is cleaned and delivered by Campus Farm to Maize and Blue Cupboard for distribution. Thanks to this newfound collaboration Campus Farm now contributes 120 pounds of locally grown produce to the Maize and Blue Cupboard each week, which represents a nearly 40% increase from 2022.
Maize and Blue Cupboard Program Manager, Kelly O’Mara, shares “The collaboration with the Campus Farm is one of my favorite stories because it’s such an impactful partnership. Campus Farm produce that is donated to MBC is grown here on this campus by students, and then students who shop at the Cupboard have access to local produce for free. It’s a great way to ensure we always have local produce, and that our shoppers get some of the good stuff! We’ve also started partnering with the Campus Farm to have Maize and Blue Cupboard volunteers work at the farm to help pick, wash, and pack produce that will be donated to the Cupboard, which is a great way to tie our programs together.
A program like this takes extra effort to maintain, but the team at Campus Farm is committed, due in large part to the involvement of UM student and Campus Farm staff member, Ivy Muench. Muench is a senior at UM pursuing dual majors in Earth and Environmental Science and Program in the Environment and has worked with the farm since March 2022. She has taken the lead on the Campus Farm/Maize and Blue Cupboard initiative and has been integral to the success of this new iteration.
She offers her perspective, saying, “I got involved in food justice because it’s a complex topic that impacts everyone. It’s something that needs to be continuously reviewed and improved to make nutritious, community-invested food a human right. The project is especially rewarding because it lets me share knowledge about farming, the Campus Farm itself, and sustainable food systems. It’s fulfilling to see people go to the farm and be amazed at what they see and make that connection between where some of MBC’s produce comes from.”
In the ever-evolving landscape of food justice and sustainability, the continued partnership showcases the potential impact of students coming together with a shared mission to effect change. As Campus Farm and Maize and Blue Cupboard continue their efforts to support their community, they underscore that change begins not only in the soil but also in the collective determination to build a more equitable future.
If you are a UM student or staff member in need of food, don’t hesitate to reach out to Maize and Blue Cupboard. Visit their website at mbc.studentlife.umich.edu for hours, location, and additional resources.
A staff member at Maize and Blue Cupboard places tomatoes from the Campus Farm into a refrigerator. Image credit: Leisa Thompson
Ivy Muench (she/her) is a senior dual majoring in Earth and Environmental Science and Program in the Environment who has been working at the farm since March 2022. After graduation, Ivy plans to go into farm sustainability and sustainable food system-related careers. Image credit: Jenna Nutter