Campus cultivates crops

By Brian Figurski

With the metro Detroit area looking at urban farming as a viable option, Oakland University is making headway to become the roots for this blossoming culture.

Urban Farming at Oakland University (UFAOU) started out almost two years ago and has since sprouted a strong following on campus.

“Urban Farming was developed through a collaboration of three or four different campus groups, including Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE),” Dr. Fay Hansen, professor of biology at Oakland University and advisor of Urban Farming, said. “Last year, getting the site started was quite a challenge. Right now, this looks much better than it did last year.”

The organization has been making strides since its beginning; volunteers who have overseen the experimental project from the ground up could not agree more with Hansen.

“(Urban Farming) has come a long way,” Stacy Armbruster, an Oakland University alumna, said. “When we first started, there wasn’t much of a structure there. Our crop production last year was decent, but this year is going to be pretty great.”

Continuing to get more students involved in urban farming and becoming more self-sufficient people, the introduction of a permaculture and organic farming class this spring/summer semester will help boost the associations fan base.

“The essence of organic farming is science-based and has a lot to do with knowing crop, insect and soil behaviors, and we integrate a lot of information into that,” Hansen said. “The organic farming class is really going to form the underpinning of this garden.”

The current centerpiece of the project, measuring out to roughly 2,720 square feet, is in the beginning stages of planting the season’s first crops.

The group is planning out the entire farming season prior to planting. They will plant dozens of vegetables to test how all adapt in the Eastern garden. Spring crops include radishes, peas, spinach, lettuces and beets.

“Hopefully our main summer crop will be cherry tomatoes and peppers,” farm manager Jared Cameron Bogdanov-Hanna said. “We’d also like to do a lot of winter squash like butternut, honey nut and spaghetti squash.”

The group’s individual members all have their own reasons behind their interest in the organic farming process, but all talk in unison over the charitable ideas for where to place the year’s yield.

“One of the primary plans is that we’re going to be donating up to 500 pounds or more of produce to food banks in Pontiac, such as Grace Centers of Hope,” Bogdanov-Hanna said. “We also have a goal of growing and getting this food into the cafeteria, grown by the students for the students.”

While the gardens will be the main focus for some time, the group agrees that the land could prosper in becoming a haven for students studying and simply taking in the scenic views the property has to offer. This tentative idea would utilize some of the spacious farmhouses, in place of the now destroyed Varner House that once rested on the site.

“We have Lawrence Tech architects working with us on envisioning this part of the campus as a place that could be quite a community gathering for sustainability,” Hansen said.

The serene site, located on the corner of Butler and Adams, south of Avon road, emanates the impression of being further from the city than the geographical truth. Bogdanov-Hanna does not think there will be a problem in the Urban Farming getting a volley of new recruits this upcoming harvest season.

“Ecology and permaculture is a design system for building human habitats and food is a cornerstone of that. It is a blast being out here and working on the gardens,” Bogdanov-Hanna said.

Urban Farming volunteers come from all over the spectrum, from biology majors to those seeking good workout in the sun.

“We’ve had some volunteers from the Oakland University Center for Autism Research, Education and Support, so that’s another interesting collaboration we have where the garden is being used as a learning center not just for biologists or chemists,” Hansen said. “The university has been very supportive.”

In terms of manpower and financing, Oakland University has been a firm backbone for Urban Farming in their recent uprising. The organization may be young on the surface, but dedicated volunteers such as Armbruster and Bogdanov-Hanna have the experience and are well aware of the tough tasks that lie ahead of the group in the future years.

The permaculture class is scheduled for the second half of the summer semester under BIO 491 and is still enrolling students. If you are interested in getting involved with the urban farming project, send an email to: [email protected]