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May 14, 2010

MSU professors help create Lansing’s first urban farm

EAST LANSING, Mich. —  Once covered with sticks, brush and litter, a half-acre plot on Lansing’s east side will soon become the city’s first urban farm, thanks to two Michigan State University professors who want to economically and socially revive the area.

The Urbandale Farm Project is the first initiative of the Lansing Urban Farm Project, a nonprofit organization founded by Laura DeLind, senior academic specialist in the Department of Anthropology and visiting assistant professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, and Linda Anderson, professor emeritus of teacher education.

Throughout spring and summer, the pair will join area residents, students and volunteers from the federal volunteer program AmeriCorps to maintain the farm, which is on South Hayford Street. The group will teach residents how to farm, and a farmer will supervise the work, which will hopefully lead to economic sustainability and improved health, DeLind said.

“Using land agriculturally makes a lot of sense instead of leaving it open or as an eyesore,” she said. “We want residents to have improved access to fresh vegetables and to consider incorporating them into their diets and daily lives as much as possible. We also hope the farm builds a sense of ownership while beautifying the neighborhood and granting a sense of purpose and place.”

So far, collards, lettuce and broccoli have been planted. These and other fresh vegetables and flowers will be marketed to area residents at reasonable prices to offset maintenance costs of the farm.

Urbandale, as the area is known, is undevelopable because it sits on the city’s 100-year flood plain, DeLind said, meaning it’s especially subject to flooding from the Red Cedar River. As a result, many lots sit empty, houses have been razed and several properties have gone into foreclosure.

She added that Urbandale, like Lansing’s east side in general, is an area where convenience stores and fast food franchises serve as the major food sources. In addition, about 30 percent of the population of Urbandale doesn’t have easy access to whole, unprocessed food due to lack of transportation.

The Ingham County Land Bank, an economic group that repurposes tax and mortgage foreclosures, currently owns the land and is renting it to the Lansing Urban Farm Project for $1, DeLind said.

“I’m hoping to involve RCAH students and anthropology students in the raising of food, looking at how food and food systems impact the lives and health of urban residents and the changes farming brings to an urban setting,” she said.

Urbandale will serve as one of four placement sites for a new civic engagement course DeLind will teach in RCAH this fall.

Other community groups involved with the project include Allen Neighborhood Center, which serves as the fiduciary agent; the Lansing Garden Project, which is extending liability insurance; and Lansing’s Office on Planning and Neighborhood Development.

Urbandale Farm Project will host a public “open farm” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. June 19.

Volunteers are welcome to participate in work days, which will be held noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays throughout the summer. 


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.