The Student Organic Farm was started in 1999 by a group of MSU students who were interested in learning to grow food sustainably. 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. They wanted to apply what they were learning in their classes in the context of a working farm. Inspired by other student farms around the country, these students felt that MSU -- the nations first land grant college -- should have a student farm of its own. At the same time, Horticulture Professor John Biernbaum began researching possibilities for 4-season farming in Michigan. The connection of these two projects 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).
With funds from a W. K. Kellogg foundation grant written by the students and leadership from John and Dr. Laurie Thorp Director of MSU RISE Program (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment), the original core group of students created the SOF. They built 3 passive solar greenhouses at the farm and in the Spring of 2002 began their first season of production. The students were interested in following the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model. With cold storage and the 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 around 110 weekly shares year-round.
From the beginning, the aim of the farm was to provide a place where students could come and volunteer, work, visit, and have input on the development of the land and farm. As a result of the vision and hard work of many, the farm has flourished. Over the years the farm has developed into a place where many different groups are able to engage with growing food and creating learning opportunities through farming.
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 and all those who have come since then. Additionally, MSU now also offers a Bachelors of Science in Sustainable and Organic Horticulture as well as a Sustainable Food and Agriculture Minor.
Bailey Hoophouse and Urban Farm, our sister farm located on campus, is another outgrowth of the SOF. It is run by the RISE program in collaboration with SOF and Residential and Hospitality Services. Since 2013 the Farm has been part of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, expanding its collaborative impact on local food systems in the region.