Hope: Hi my name is Hope Garcia and welcome to this week’s farmcast, a podcast where we talk about farms. This week’s featured farm is the University of Michigan Campus Farm. I spoke with their program manager to get some insight into their operations.
Jeremy: My name is Jeremy Moghtader and I am the program manager at the University of Michigan Campus Farm.
H: So I thought I’d start off just by asking about how long the campus farm has been around and how long you've worked there.
J: The farm has it's origins in several different student initiatives that wanted to have food and farming related activities and focuses for education on campus, and ultimately the formation of the university of Michigan sustainable food program which is an umbrella organization, like a coalition group, of different food related student orgs on campus. And when that group formed they quickly decided that they wanted a tangible, hands-on, flagship project, and that project was to create a campus farm. And the farm kind of launched in its current iteration about six years ago. My position as a full time staff program manager is to help the students facilitate the students and the achievement of heir goals and Michigan vision, has been around, I'm just starting my third year.
H: Okay cool, so in general the farm is largely student led?
J: Right. The farm is student conceived and student led, we have a student management team and then we have additional students who work at the farm and we have students that engage with the farm in a variety of other ways, whether that's through a course or through some of our work days that we have for students to come out and engage in food production. Part of what we're hoping to have out of those interactions is having students realize that they are both empowered not just to be consumers but also to be producers and to understand that they have agency in their food system.
H: So speaking of food production, I wanted to ask you about some of the growing practices at the farm. The planet blue webpage about the farm says that "the campus farm uses practices that lead to healthy soil, clean water systems, and diverse habitats". So I just wanted to ask you
what exactly are these practices?
J: Right, so there are a couple of things that we're doing. One, we are following the USDA organic practices guidelines, so that means that we don't use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. We're using compost and other forms of nutrients that are linked with carbon basically, so they're complex molecules derived from natural sources. In terms of pest
management we're using crop rotation as well as crop diversity to try and minimize the buildup of pests in the system. On the water use side, we're utilizing drip irrigation as much as we can, which increases our water use efficiency over 75% more than if we were using overhead
irrigation, which has a lot of loss to evaporation.
H: Okay so that all obviously sounds awesome and like there’s a wealth of benefits for both the land that the farm is on and the people consuming its products. Why is it hat larger more commercial farms might not employ these same practices?
J: So I would say the short answer is because doing it the non-ecological way is cheaper. And we don't have a structure from a regulatory standpoint that really forces people to choose the more ecologically responsible path.
H: Right yeah that makes a lot of sense. And the planet blue website also mentions the concept of systems functioning as a closed loop. So what does this mean in agriculture and within the realm of the campus farm?
J: Yeah I think in general in agriculture it means you're trying to minimize your external inputs and maximize the ecological interactions and closed loop cycling that occurs within that system. When we are bringing in compost, some of the compost that we bring in is from made from the dining hall's recycled food waste. So we have food going out to dining and compost coming back from dining indirectly through the partnership that they have with the composting facility.
H: Oh wow that awesome. Speaking of the dining halls, as a student who eats in he dining halls everyday I’d love to know what is coming from the campus farm. Is there anything this time of year that you guys are selling to dining?
J: Yeah so in early November we still have some, quite a few crops coming in. Kale, chard, broccoli, salad mix (a lot of salad mix) are some of the things we have in the largest volume.
H: Oh wow okay cool! I'll be sure to keep an eye out in the dining halls for all those things and tell everyone I know that they came from the campus farm. Those are all my questions so if there's anything else you'd like to add I'll open up the microphone to you.
J: I'll add that in addition to the things we talked about, the farm really seeks to be a thriving and supportive learning community for students on campus, and being the opportunity to come out and breathe some fresh air and get your hands in the dirt. And we really encourage any students who are interested to find us and become part of our learning community.
H: For students that are interested in getting involved with the farm you can email email@example.com to be added to their email list, and there are workdays Friday from 4-6pm and Sundays from 1-3.