Preserving a vision -- MSU Student Organic Farm gets new management structure

For the past 16 years, the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF) has served as a university-wide resource for students, faculty and staff members, and the East Lansing community.

Student Organic Farm stand

For the past 16 years, the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF) has served as a university-wide resource for students, faculty and staff members, and the East Lansing community.  A restructured memorandum of understanding recently completed by university officials ensures that the farm will remain an integral part of the campus community for years to come.


“It’s clear that students and many others in the MSU community have benefitted greatly from the Student Organic Farm,” said Vance Baird, chair of the Department of Horticulture.  “Our goal is to provide a strong management, communication and advisory environment that continues to support the farm for generations to come.”


The primary management team consists of a SOF farm programs director -- Jeremy Moghtader -- and an undergraduate engagement coordinator -- Laurie Thorp.  Future plans include an outreach-engagement coordinator and a research coordinator.


Additionally, an advocacy council will help support the long-term viability and success of the SOF, advise on growth of the farm and advocate for the SOF in achievement of its mission. This council, headed up by the director of the Center for Regional Food Systems, is made up of five other administrators on campus from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the College of Natural Sciences, MSU Auxiliary Services, the Department of Horticulture and the Office of Land Management.


A faculty, staff and student advisory group, whose members will serve overlapping three-year terms, will provide input and advice to the primary management team. That group is made up of faculty and staff members and students from numerous majors and departments across campus.


“We have such a treasure in the Student Organic Farm,” said Kelly Millenbah, associate dean and director in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “This process will help ensure that we have input from campus stakeholders in the farm and that it remains a wonderful learning opportunity for our students and faculty.”


The Student Organic Farm was started in 1999 by a group of students interested in learning to grow food organically.  At the time, there were no classes in organic agriculture at MSU, and students were looking to acquire knowledge in a hands-on, experiential format.  At the same time, John Biernbaum, horticulture professor, began researching possibilities for four-season farming in Michigan.  The connection of these two ideas was ideal, as year-round farming provided opportunities for students to engage in farming during the main part of the academic year (September to May).


“John provided important leadership over its first decade and a solid foundation for the farm, and brought a collective vision to life,” Baird said.


With funds from a W. K. Kellogg foundation grant written by the students and leadership from Biernbaum and Thorp, the initial core group of students created the SOF. They built three passive solar greenhouses at the farm and, in the spring of 2002, began the first season of production.  The students were interested in following the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model.  With cold storage and hoophouses, the SOF started the first year-round CSA in Michigan, and one of only a few in the entire country.  The CSA currently serves more than 110 weekly shares year- round.


As the farm developed, it became clear that many students wanted the farm to offer a more formal approach to learning about organic farming.  The Organic Farmer Training Program was a product of the evolution of the ideas and vision held by the original group of students and faculty members and all those who have come since then.  


The SOF was recently named one of the top 30 sustainable college-run farms in the United States by College Values Online. Its farm stand was designated one of the 50 best in the country by Rodale’s Organic Life.

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