Steel arches at Matthaei
Arches at Matthaei
Arches at Matthaei

Garden arches made from steel and donated garden tools at the Campus Farm at Matthaei were designed by former intern and student worker Kat Shiffler. Left to right, the arches frame the straw bale house at the farm; show the hoop houses at the farm in the background; and invite visitors to the farm up the hill from the main road around the Matthaei Botanical Garden landscapes.

The latest installation near the University of Michigan Campus Farm complex at Matthaei may not be edible, but it is a feast for the eyes. It’s a series of steel arches topped with artfully arranged garden tools. Locally crafted by Great Lakes Metal Fabrication, the arches in this “ribbon farm pathway” invite visitors to enter what feels like a door to another place.
The arches are part of a larger project, according to Kat Shiffler, a former Matthaei-Nichols intern, Campus Farm student worker, and current grad student in landscape architecture at the University of Michigan. Shiffler worked with now-retired Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese and Jeremy Moghtader, farm program manager, to create greater connectivity between the farm landscape and the gardens.
“When Jeremy and I started working together nearly three years ago,” says Shiffler, “he presented me with what I interpreted as an intriguing design challenge for the Campus Farm: How do you connect the world of perennial plants at the core of the botanical gardens with the largely annual food crops of the Campus Farm?”
With support from the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute and the Michael Cameron Dempsey Fund, Shiffler led an interdisciplinary team that collaborated with three renowned experts from tribal nations. In 2019 the group participated in a three-week public workshop series on ethobotany hosted at the Campus Farm.
Detail of arch at Campus Farm
Detail of arches at Matthaei

Detail of the garden arches at the Campus Farm at Matthaei. The arches are made from steel and donated garden tools and were designed by former intern and student worker Kat Shiffler.

This collaboration lead to the development of a planting list and design for an edible perennial landscape inspired by indigenous foodways and featuring plants from Dr. Martin Reinhardt’s Decolonizing Diet Project. Reinhardt, a professor at Northern Michigan University, created this multi-dimensional study of the relationships between people and indigenous foods of the Great Lakes region.
The resulting landscape in progress at the Campus Farm acknowledges the living land, demonstrates edible landscaping for home gardeners and, importantly, honors indigenous foodways and the stewardship of the land by native peoples.
Ribbon Farms
The term ribbon farm refers to a regional farming system characteristic of French settlements, particularly along the Saint Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, and the Detroit River and tributaries, explains Shiffler.
Ribbon farms usually lined up along a waterway, she says. “In 18th-century Detroit, ribbon farms took the form of strips of land along the Detroit River waterfront. This farming system provided water access to the maximum number of families and minimized the distance between houses and from the fort at the center of the settlement.”
At the Campus Farm and botanical gardens, this design is a reminder of the many existing layers of human influence and of our debt to those who worked and lived on the land before European settlers arrived. This dynamic landscape continues to be shaped by people’s relationships to plants, their technologies, and farming systems.
“The ribbon farm archways are one component of the larger landscape project,” says Shiffler. “They’re not meant as a tribute, but rather an acknowledgement of the colonial past and present of this land and the need for healing and acknowledgement of its original Anishinaabeg (including Odawa, Ojibwe, and Boodewadomi) and Wyandot stewards.”
In addition to a growing collection of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials now growing in the food forest that connects the gardens and farm, interpretive signage will be installed in fall 2021. The signage explores concepts of sustainability and justice in food and farming systems in the context of the Campus Farm’s mission, vision, and work.
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