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Michigan State University’s Student Organic Farm is one of the oldest, most highly regarded programs of its kind in the nation. Find out what it takes to keep this student-run farm in peak condition, starting with the planting season.

letterhe 15-acre certified organic farm, with 20,000 square feet of passive solar greenhouse space and cold storage, is home to the first
year-round Community Supported Agriculture program in Michigan and provides fresh produce for a campus farm stand as well as some dining halls.

Year round, student farmers dedicate themselves to learning every aspect of what’s required for a successful growing season, from agricultural practices to management to business plans.

Come harvest time, they share the fruits—and vegetables—of their labor.

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Jason Skonieczny harvests asparagus at the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm, located on the southwest edge of campus. Skonieczny is part of the current cohort of the nine-month long Organic Farmer Training Program.

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Strawberry plants poke through a weed guard at the MSU Student Organic Farm in mid-May. The 15-acre farm is a certified organic year-round teaching and production operation.

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Students in the Organic Farmer Training Program thin a basil bed at the organic farm on a cool May morning.

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Organic Farmer Training Program students install a trellis system for beans, which will climb quickly in the summer heat. The training program raises vegetables, livestock, flowers, fruit and herbs for local markets and emphasizes agricultural skills as well as hands-on farm management.

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MSU students Madeline Ciofu and Tyler Vuillemot transplant chard on a rainy May morning on the MSU Student Organic Farm.

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MSU students Madeline Ciofu and Tyler Vuillemot measure for consistent spacing as they transplant chard on a rainy morning.

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MSU student Madeline Ciofu transplants chard on the Student Organic Farm. Farm staff also collaborate with MSU faculty to provide learning opportunities for other MSU students, including organic farming courses, interdisciplinary experiential learning activities and research opportunities.

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MSU student Madeline Ciofu pulls plugs of chard from a flat.

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Members of the Organic Farmer Training Program operate a farm stand each Thursday near Fairchild Theatre. In addition to campus operations, the organic farm’s outreach and extension program works with private and public farms and organizations in rural and urban settings to help develop year-round food production systems.

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Early summer offerings at the campus farm stand include many root crops, some grown early in the season in the farm’s greenhouses and some that have been stored from last season’s late harvest.

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Each morning on the farm, crew members meet to review the day’s chores.

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The farm’s workhouse is the hub for staff and students.

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MSU student Madeline Ciofu (foreground) helps install shades over the hoophouses as the sun’s heat becomes a factor for the enclosed vegetables.

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MSU student Abby King waters early season crops in one of the solar hoophouses.

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Jordan Semer, a student in the Organic Farmer Training Program, begins the late-spring process of trellising tomato plants in one of the farm’s hoophouses.

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A member of the farmer training program uses a broad fork as she prepares soil for a new planting in one of the hoophouses.

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Student Organic Farm production manager Dan Fillius runs through the day’s work to complete with the student crew.

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Tomatoes and herbs are off to a promising start in late May at one of the farm’s hoophouses.

Planting it forward, Hoophouse style

When dressing to attend a gala fundraising dinner to support MSU’s Student Organic Farm, guests are as likely to reach for their denim jackets and cowboy boots as they are for a tuxedo or pearls.

But such attire is in the right spirit for the farm’s annual Hoophouse Gala, where attendees support student farmers, not amid swaths of opulence, but surrounded by a bountiful harvest right on the farm.

Last fall, the Student Organic Farm Scholarship Endowment grew by $80,000 when 270 guests came together for the fifth annual Hoophouse Gala. A collaborative effort by the Division of Residential and Hospitality Services and the farm, the event has become a fall tradition at MSU.

Each year, guests dine alfresco on a sustainably produced, high-end sampling of farm-raised and local produce, prepared by Spartan chefs. Thanks to the generous support of gala attendees past, the event also celebrates student scholarship recipients.

To date, 16 students have been awarded Larry and Faylene Owen Emerging Farmer Awards and Vennie Gore Emerging Farmer Awards. Faylene Owen serves on the MSU Board of Trustees and Larry Owen is a former trustee. Gore is MSU’s Vice President for Auxiliary Enterprises.

Event attendees also make donations throughout the evening, most recently to raise funds for building a barn at the farm. The barn will provide student workers with a dry, protected space for teaching and learning, space for storage as well as the ability to host more special events.

Plans are underway for the sixth gala in the fall of 2014.

Make a gift to the
Student Organic Farm online