By Josie Gilmore
Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.
A visual representation of the cycle of sustainability.
Fellow intern Brooke Callaghan and I shovel compost out of the dump truck.
With the summer coming to a close, I have learned so much from my internship at the Campus Farm. From irrigation to accounting, I’ve done it all. However, my favorite thing about this internship has been its focus on the environment and sustainable food systems. Sustainability is the farm’s main mission in more ways than one. As I worked and learned, I realized that the farm is structured in a sustainable circle, if you will: student involvement, growing, harvesting, delivering, and eating create a cycle of delicious local food! Throughout this blog post, I will explain each facet of this cycle and why I love being a part of it.
Student Involvement: Students are an integral part of the farm, and I like to think the farm plays a central role in students’ lives as well. The farm gives students hands-on, educational farming experience through its paid manager and crew positions, including available work-study positions. Jeremy Moghtader, the farm’s manager, educates students on agricultural ecology and the intricacies of farming. Having this type of interactive immersion is extremely valuable to me and other students like me who want to learn more about the future of food.
Additionally, the farm collaborates with many other student networks to reach out to as many people as possible. We work with clubs like Food Recovery Network (FRN) in order to ensure food waste is at a minimum. Food Recovery takes food that would otherwise be composted and makes it available to students and Ann Arbor residents in need. Also, the farm often partners with Friends of the Campus Farm (FCF), which is a volunteer-based organization that gathers students who want to work on the farm on Fridays during the school year. I joined this club last semester and was happy to find a new community in a hoop house. I believe that the Campus Farm is really beneficial to students’ overall well-being. Getting your hands dirty and being in a welcoming green space improves both mental and physical health. Plus, more student hands means more growing and harvesting can be accomplished!
Friends of the Campus Farm volunteers harvest spinach.
Growing: A lot of work goes into growing and caring for a farm; on campus, we make sure to keep our growing practices as efficient and sustainable as we can. For example, we reuse our seeding trays and use irrigation techniques that minimize water waste. Drip tape (pictured on the left) is a great solution to this problem. Drip tape is a long plastic tube that slowly emits water and reduces water waste that typically results from evaporation or overwatering.
Soil health is also very important to growing vigorous produce. The farm promotes healthy soil by following organic practices and completely avoiding synthetic fertilizers. We do use some natural fertilizers, such as fish emulsion, in order to make sure the plants have the nutrients they need. However, we use responsible amounts and minimize runoff issues by being conscientious with our applications.
Harvesting: Going out into the fields to harvest is always exciting! I love picking out the colorful tomatoes and delicious greens. Also, because our produce is harvested within days of delivery, it always stays fresh longer and—in my biased opinion—tastes better. One thing I learned about this summer is the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety certification. This certification is important to us and our customers because it tells our customers that we are treating their food safely with love and care.
Eating: So who are the Campus Farm’s customers? Most of our produce is sold to the University of Michigan’s dining halls, and the profits made from MDining are used to pay for students’ wages. What is great about selling to the dining halls is how local it is. The proximity of our farm to campus plays a huge role in reducing our carbon footprint. On average, we drive 6 miles to deliver our produce. This is so much more efficient than shipping in lettuce from a desert 2,000 miles away! Also, it is local in the sense that we are all one community within the university and we are feeding our peers with our homegrown food.
When the Campus Farm is not selling in the dining halls, we make it a priority to offer food to students at a discount. We have recently started a produce pickup program, in which students can order food to be delivered to Mason Hall. This program is based upon the common farm practice of community-supported agriculture (more commonly known as a CSA); however, we adapted the program to be more appropriate for a college student’s budget and eating habits.
My favorite part about this entire sequence is the farm’s central mantra: healthy, local produce grown by students for students. And while this cycle may seem quite enclosed, it is open to anyone and everyone who loves food and cares for our planet. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and share your food with your friends. How novel…
Josie Gilmore is a rising junior studying Program in the Environment with an interest in economics and sustainable food systems. She is from Philadelphia, Penn., and loves hanging out with her family, friends, and Portuguese water dog, Bella. Josie is very excited to be a part of the Campus Farm and the Nature Academy internship program this summer! You can find her spending time outdoors–hiking, backpacking, hammocking, and now farming. Josie’s internship was made possible by donors to the Campus Farm to support and provide students with tools, knowledge, and hands-on experience in food production, allowing them to be at the center for activity and innovation.