Student farm sprouts success

Student farm sprouts success
Faculty and students across campus learn as they grow

Story by Suzanne Steel, Video by Walter Warkus, Photos by John Rice

One of the coldest Aprils in decades was followed by a May with temperatures 10 degrees above average. Even so, the Ohio State Student Farm’s first 2018 harvest of head lettuce, kale, basil and cut flowers made its way to customers on May 31.

As the season moves on, beans, beets, peppers, squash, tomatoes, collards, potatoes and more will be added to the bounty.

While the farm grows more than 100 varieties of 25 different vegetables, herbs and flowers, its most important crop is the connection it establishes for student workers, farming and the environment, said Maria Fredericks, an Environmental Policy major in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.

The student farm is an “amazing place for students to learn how to grow their own food while getting more in touch with the environment,” said Fredericks, who serves as the outreach coordinator for the farm.For $300 per share, Ohio State Student Farm customers receive 12 weeks of flowers, herbs and produce, estimated to be enough for one to three people. Fifteen shares were sold for the 2018 season.

“It's an amazing place for students to learn how to grow their own food while getting more in touch with the environment”Maria Fredericks

Located on the Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory at Kenny Road and Lane Avenues in Columbus, student workers hail from many colleges, with majors in Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Environmental Science; Geography; Philosophy; Engineering Education; Horticulture and Crop Science; Plant Pathology; and Landscape Architecture.

Teagan Pfister, a Horticulture major who serves as the vegetable production assistant on the farm, said she’s a part of the group “because growing plants with a purpose is my passion.” She said she’s gaining valuable knowledge about growing different types of crops and is learning more about pollinators from working on the honey bee team.

The farm sells its produce before a seed is placed in the ground through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

With a CSA, customers essentially own a share of the harvest, as they share in the risk of farming. In a good year, they will receive more vegetables. In an unfavorable year, less.

The student farm first launched in 2010 but ended when most of the participating students graduated. It was relaunched a year ago with funding from an Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation Linkage and Leverage Grant, said Christopher Ratcliff, one of the farm’s advisors and a lecturer in the College of Engineering. Kristen Mercer in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science also serves as advisor.

Ratcliff said they are seeking additional sources of funding to help support an ongoing faculty or staff position for consistency.

“Without it, the relationships built and the institutional knowledge of the site can’t really be maintained with students coming and going, no matter how awesome they are.”

The group is also seeking a grant from the President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability and hopes departments and colleges will help support this project.

“We hope to host hands-on learning for a variety of courses, develop practicum courses and provide places for students to carry out their own student-led research projects,” Ratcliff said. “Student farms are flourishing at universities of all sizes across the country. Ohio State should certainly have one.”

The goals for the farm were developed in a group studies course in fall 2017, titled “Visioning the Purpose of the Student Farm,” and by student leaders and faculty advisors, he said.

The goals include having “a space where students can learn about and practice farming, especially ecologically friendly, small-scale, sustainable agriculture, and especially in a peer-to-peer way that transcends the standard top-down hierarchy of the average university classroom,” Ratcliff said.

The group also wants “to find a way to support community food initiatives” in the Columbus area and “to provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage in research projects,” he said.

We will be sharing updates on the Ohio State Student Farm during the growing season. Find our updates on Twitter, @cfaes_osu, and Facebook, Ohio State - College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.