U-M Campus Farm: Food grown by students, for students

Student volunteers working at the Campus Farm on March 9, 2018 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan Campus Farm is almost entirely run by student farmers. 

Located at the university's Matthaei Botanical Gardens, on Ann Arbor's north side, you will find students working in hoop houses year-round and in lush fields in the summertime. 

We recently attended a student volunteer planting session, where droves of students showed up to get their hands dirty.

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

The Campus Farm started five years ago as an offshoot of a sustainable food student group. The farm was its flagship project.

Farm manager Jeremy Moghtader recently joined the project to oversee and mentor the student farmers. 

"The farm remained entirely run by students with a little bit of help from the Matthaei Botanical Garden staff for its first four years," he said. "And last season, I was brought in because we received some funding for a staff position from the provost’s office, to become a full-time staff manager -- not to take over from the students but to facilitate the student’s ability to grow food in a more consistent manner, leveraging my knowledge and resources."

Farm manager Jeremy Moghtader instructs students on how to plant vegetable seeds (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

He previously served as the organic student farm manager at Michigan State for 10 years.

Under his guidance, the Campus Farm became U.S. Department of Agriculture certified for good agricultural practices and was able to realize its longtime goal: To sell food to U-M's dining halls.

"It was so amazing," recalled Moghtader. "The first day that we did our first distribution we did a 100 pounds of kale and 100 pounds of chard, and we washed it and packed it and everyone laughed. We all went together to do the first delivery. Everyone was just so elated that this long-term dream of starting a farm and growing food for dining had manifested as food grown by students for students."

For student manager and junior Haley Kerner, being able to promote healthy lifestyles on campus is what she's most proud of.

"It’s very satisfying to me personally because I am really into healthy eating and promoting health. I want to focus on public health after (graduation) with a focus on nutrition, so being able to be a part of that and encouraging people to eat healthy on campus is really cool to me."

Student farm manager Haley Kerner in one of the farm's hoop houses (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Spinach growing in one of the Campus Farm's year-round hoop houses (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

She is one of several paid student managers who are responsible for the work on the farm.

"We (student managers) do all the behind-the-scenes work of growing the food and prepping for the next season and supplying for the dining hall. So there’s a lot of stuff going on, and that’s one thing I really like about it; you don’t get bored from doing the same thing. There are so many different tasks to be done. It’s pretty exciting."

On the day of our visit, tens of student volunteers were planting seedlings for an upcoming sale at Matthaei.

"Today, the students are seeding seedlings that will be for sale as part of the Kitchen Favorites sale here at the botanical gardens," explained Moghtader. "That sale is the weekend of May 18 and 19. These students are growing plants like peppers and tomatoes and kale and basil and rosemary; things that you would want in your kitchen favorites sale."

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Student volunteer and sophomore Yoav Jacob heard about the farm on a preorientation trip before his freshman year. Once he got to campus, he immediately got involved.

"I just really like being connected to nature, and this was a really great way to do that," he said. "I’m really interested in the food system in general, and it felt like this was just something that I could really relate to and wanted to be a part of."

As for future projects, the student farmers are now thinking of ways to deliver directly to students.

"Students would be able to order 2 pints of cherry tomatoes and a half-pound bag of spinach, and then we’d figure out a way to deliver that to them on campus," said Moghtader. "It doesn't exist yet, but the students are excited."

To learn more about the Campus Farm, visit its website.

Learn more about the Sustainable Food Program here.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.