Year-round harvesting in MSU hoop houses feeds hungry students
EAST LANSING, Mich. — At a time when Michigan farmers are preparing their land for planting, students and others working at Michigan State University’s Student Organic Farm are busy harvesting produce – everything from potatoes to kale – much of which will be used to feed hungry MSU students.
Of course, that is a year-round occurrence at the farm’s hoop houses, a type of greenhouse that allows for nonstop planting and harvesting. With several of them located on the 10-acre farm just south of the MSU campus, it’s always harvest time.
“We grow about 80 different crops,” said Laurie Thorp, an MSU faculty member who serves on the farm advisory team. “You name it, we grow it.”
A hoop house is a type of passive solar greenhouse. It’s a long, dome-shaped building covered by a double-thick sheet of polycarbonate plastic. Solar energy actually heats the ground, so, unlike a traditional greenhouse, plants are planted right in the ground.
“They are solar passive, so we are not using any fossil fuels to heat these houses,” said Thorp, who also is director of MSU’s Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment. “They’re being heated by the sun.”
MSU’s hoop houses are 20 to 300 feet wide and more than 100 feet in length.
The hoop houses not only promote sustainability through the use of solar energy, but also by providing organically and locally grown food. Two years ago an alliance was worked out between the Student Organic Farm and MSU’s Culinary Services under which many of the farm’s organically grown crops would be sold to MSU for use in the university’s dining halls.
“Greens from the Student Organic Farm are used exclusively at Yakeley Hall,” said Kurt Kwiatkowski, a senior executive chef with MSU Culinary Services. “People want to know where their food is coming from. Today’s consumers are very interested in local, very interested in sustainable.
“It’s nice to say that these food products were grown right here on campus. You can’t get much fresher than that.”
Many of the crops also are distributed locally through Community Supported Agriculture. In this program, members buy a share of the farm and, in exchange, receive a certain amount of produce each week.
Providing local, fresh produce cuts shipping costs and keeps our food dollars in Michigan, Thorp said, and reduces the amount of fossil fuel needed to produce and transport goods.
The hoop houses also serve an education function, with about 25 students working at the facilities or somewhere on the farm at any given time.
“We’re also teaching farmers how to use this technology,” Thorp said. “We do this through multiple venues – presenting at national conferences or offering workshops either on campus or around the state.”
Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.