Crops for change

Crops for change
Student farmers focus on food and justice
Student farm advisor Chris Ratcliff operates a BCS machine to break up the soil on Waterman Farm on April 18. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Multimedia Editor
Student farm advisor Chris Ratcliff operates a BCS machine to break up the soil on Waterman Farm on April 18. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Multimedia Editor

By Deborah Eshun, reporter for The Lantern

Sitting on almost four acres of land, the Ohio State Student Farm Organization is an opportunity for students interested in urban farming to combine food and service in Franklin County.

After being revitalized in fall 2016, student and faculty not only use their farm to get involved in the growing process, but they also use their resources to combat social inequities, such as food insecurity in Columbus.

The farm is governed by three pillars: farming, outreach, and research with all efforts connecting back to their social justice focus.

Urban farming is on the rise, Christopher Ratcliff, engineering education lecturer and faculty advisor for the farm, said.

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2016 report, over 764,000 Ohio households reported food insecurity and another 300,000 reported low food security.

“There’s a lot of hunger in the world. There’s a lot of hunger in Ohio,” Ratcliff said.

Urban farming is a way for students to make a direct impact on the communities around them that may be experiencing the impact of food insecurity and issues, Ratcliff said.

Faculty farm advisor Chris Ratcliff works with students to manage the farm. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Multimedia Editor

“If you’re talking about areas with insecure food, you’re probably also talking about areas that also have insufficient opportunities for jobs [and] insufficient opportunities for education,” Ratcliff said. “So if you’re not talking about education, food, and economic opportunity at the same time, you’re going to fall short.“

Maria Fredericks is a fourth-year student majoring in environmental policy and decision making in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. As outreach coordinator for the Student Farm Organization, she said she wanted to use her previous organizational work to further the social justice-oriented mission of the student farm.

“What interested me in agriculture was its connection to food justice, food sovereignty, and the way that food can be a vehicle for healing for folks,” Fredericks said.

Although the farm is funded by larger grants, students also use their Second-Year Transformational Experience Program funds, Undergraduate Student Government grants, and the Honors and Scholars Grant to fund their projects.

Throughout the year, but especially during the summer, students volunteer to get hands-on experience maintaining farm grounds and growing from seed to harvest, Fredericks said.

Members of the Ohio State Student Farm organization pot plants at Waterman Farms on April 18. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Multimedia Editor

In the colder months, the organization still farms by using an unheated greenhouse called a high tunnel. During this time, they also host workshops that teach about safe city soils and fermentation as well as sustainable farming and migrant farm worker conditions.

The farm grows more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, squash, corn, onions and potatoes, with aspirations to expand in the future, Fredericks said. She added that the farm is very conscious about where their produce ends up.

In the past, Fredericks said that the farm yielded enough food for 15 people in their community-supported agriculture program to receive a bag of fresh produce every week.

This fall, the student farm will be partnering with Best Food Forward, a produce bulk-buying student organization, to help them provide fresh food to Ohio State students at a lower cost.

The organization hopes to expand in membership and its social justice efforts moving forward as it heads into a busy growing season, Ratcliff said.

“The idea is every person should have sovereignty over their food, whether that means they have the ability to choose what kind of food they eat, where it comes from — they should have knowledge about what the health of that food means to them and their families in the long term,” Ratcliff said.


This story originally appeared in The Ohio State University's student newspaper, The Lantern, on May 21, 2019.