Local foundation supports OU efforts to promote urban gardening

Oakland University

‘s Student Organic Farming Program (SOFP) has been awarded a $20,400 grant from the Americana Foundation – a Novi-based agriculture advocacy and education organization – to pursue its educational and local food production sustainability goals in coming years.

The funding, which will be matched by Oakland University, will support the hiring of a farm manager to oversee farm production; coordinate and work with student volunteers; assist with community outreach programs designed to improve access to fresh, local produce; and pursue the farm’s goal of moving toward a self-sufficient business operation through sales of produce on campus.

“We’re looking to establish a long-term, sustainable campus and community gardening program that has educational advantages as well,” said Fay Hansen, an associate professor of biological sciences and faculty advisor to the SOFP. “This grant will go a long way in helping us to move toward that goal.”

Presently, the SOFP maintains successful service-learning collaborations with the Baldwin Center and the Kennedy School, both in Pontiac, as well as with young adults from OU’s Center for Autism Research, Education and Support. Not only do these partnerships create opportunities for youth and adult participants to learn how to grow healthy foods locally, but also why doing so is so important to overall community health and welfare.

“This grant moves us toward our mission of being a regional hub for training and resources to building a strong, sustainable, local food system in OU’s service area – both on and off campus,” Hansen said.

Meanwhile, students in Oakland University academic programs ranging from biology to writing and rhetoric have an opportunity to enhance their education through community service experiences.

“We see the farm as a great resource on campus, one that can help get people thinking about a number of important issues – anything from the availability of fresh foods to protecting environmental health,” Hansen said. “Students here are really beginning to learn where their food comes from and what it means to their health. We’d like to see that kind of learning happening on an even wider scale as we move forward.”

The farm program was initially created as a student club at OU in 2008, but has since evolved into a multi-faceted, wide-reaching operation that teaches more than 50 students and student interns the methods of organic gardening during summer classes that emphasize hands-on participation.

Students also help organize efforts to help improve community access to fresh produce and to advocate for the development and expansion of sustainable, organic farms and urban gardens throughout the region, particularly in and around Pontiac.

In addition to expanding its educational and community outreach goals, OU’s organic farm plans to expand its cultivation area to roughly one acre, create a greenhouse for year-round production and broaden data collection, tracking and reporting in order to help advance organic gardening advocacy. The latter goal will also help the SOFP pursue its goal to become a USDA certified organic farm.