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July 14, 2015

Bayer gift helps harvest hope

When Michael Hamm surveys a Lansing urban garden, visits Detroit’s Eastern Market or stands inside an MSU Student Organic Farm hoop house, he sees pieces to an important puzzle.

As the C.S. Mott Professor for Sustainable Agriculture at MSU, he envisions a thriving state economy centered on locally produced food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable. He is driven to find new paths for a sustainable, resilient and secure food supply not just in Michigan but for the world. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation created the endowed chair position he holds with a $1.5 million gift in 1989.

Hamm is a leading researcher in regionally integrated, sustainable food systems and heads the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

“Our dependence on California for food is one of the problems we face, especially since they are increasingly challenged with drought and population growth,” said Hamm. “But we need research, analysis and training to understand and promote regional strategies that are cost effective, health promoting and leave a small environmental footprint.”

His objectives match perfectly with the hopes and dreams of alumni Doug and Maria Bayer of Bellevue, Washington. So much so, it inspired the couple to support Hamm’s work with the Douglas and Maria Bayer New Initiatives Fund for Sustainable Agriculture with a $1 million pledge. The fund will enable Hamm and MSU to bring together scientists who are creative, dynamic and experts in fundamental knowledge of resilient, sustainable food systems.

The Bayers — Doug, a retired software engineer and Maria, a former teacher — are passionate about environmental issues and also committed to improving the lives of people around the world. Meeting Hamm was a spark.

“MSU has always been academically rigorous with a practical bent to it,” said Doug Bayer. “The growing world population is going to strain all kinds of systems, so as we listened to Mike Hamm we could see that MSU will lead the way to improvements in food systems that make sense economically and environmentally and can really make a difference.”

In the past few months alone, Hamm and his team have secured a USDA grant to help new farmers get started. CRFS staff published the results of a statewide survey showing the capacity of Michigan food producers to supply food to schools and other institutions that are eager to provide fresher, local foods. CRFS staff also documented the impact of local food policy councils in Michigan and released case studies on the first 30 months of the Michigan Food Hub Learning and Innovation Network as a model for food hub networks nationwide. Additionally, CRFS helped a local NGO launch a pilot Women-in-Agriculture Network in the Flint area.

CRFS has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which has provided about $6 million in support through two recent grants. One grant focuses on activities that expand fresh food access in schools, advance local food access by limited-resource families, and provide support for farmers through unheated hoophouse acquisition. The second grant builds capacity and marshals action on the Michigan Good Food Charter. The charter was created in 2010 through CFRS with statewide input. The goal is to spur efforts toward local food production and consumption and other practices that will lead to a healthier and more sustainable food supply for all Michiganders.

Right now, Hamm is on sabbatical in the United Kingdom as a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford’s Mansfield College and is working at the Environmental Change Institute. He’s busy building new partnerships and identifying new opportunities to collaborate with UK and European universities around food systems and sustainable agriculture.

“It is exciting to have the Bayer’s endowment to catalyze a broad range of research to help ensure good, healthy food for our children, grandchildren and beyond,” Hamm said. “This endowment will expand our capacity to collaborate and to go past conventional research, where big insights can come.  Over the next couple of years it is my intention that these funds will be used to seed research that in turn yields federal funds for both domestic and international research.”


Find out more about Mike Hamm.

For more information on making a gift to MSU’s research mission, contact University Advancement at or by calling (517) 884-1000 or toll-free (800) 232-4MSU.