The goals of the Farm Food Program are to provide new educational opportunities to faculty and students to study local food production in a sustainable way using mostly organic methods, and to deliver fresh produce and herbs to the campus.
In fall of 2009, the Farm administration worked to design a pilot project to start food production in February, 2010. Bon Appétit gave two gifts to the farm to help with the initial costs associated with acquisition of materials such as growing media, containers, fertilizers, seeds and plants.
Labor to produce the more than 6 tons of food grown in 2010 was performed by farm staff, student staff, student volunteers and other members of the community, including local high school students and faculty.
During 2011, more than 40 products were grown at the farm indoor and outdoor planting areas. The total production was over 7,000 lbs by the end of the year. Volunteer labor increased from 20% in 2010 to 25% in 2011 growing season.
In 2012 total farm production surpassed 10,000 lbs and new products included fresh honey, blueberries and oyster mushrooms.
Although the farm food program is not USDA Certified Organic, it uses techniques that are consistent with the principles of organic gardening. We use no herbicides, instead favoring the time-honored and labor-intensive tradition of manual weeding. When needed, more productive, gas-powered handheld tillers are used sparingly. Organic fertilizers are used as alternatives to traditional quick-release chemical fertilizers and instead of chemical insecticides, bio-controls such as predatory insects and plant derived solutions are employed for pest control as well as pest population monitoring systems.
It is still a young program with room to grow, but we endeavor to work with nature to produce healthy, fresh produce for our dining facilities. In our outdoor planting areas, we deal with the ever-present predator pressure from deer, rabbits and other would-be crop thieves with the use of deer fencing and an organic repellant made primarily from garlic and putrescent egg solids known as Liquid Fence. Besides continuing to increase the size and scope of food production to supply an even greater percentage of the food consumed on campus, we hope to branch out into other areas.
"I went to the farm this November. It is so beautiful! The clear blue sky, the tall trees surrounding the homey houses, the smell of fresh earth and the delicious-looking vegetables growing in the gardens.
"I loved everything about it! I met a lot of new people there and it was great fun working in the gardens. The whole experience was interesting and educational, since I learned a lot about plants also. I would definitely do that again if I have the chance!"
Han Xu, CWRU student
One of the primary goals of the Farm Food Program is to assist non-profit organizations while educating the Greater Cleveland community. We offer a variety of programs to various organizations, including:
- The Cleveland Food Bank: In 2010, the farm donated over 300 pounds of fresh squash and zucchini to help feed the hungry. In 2011, the farm donated over 800 pounds.
- Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: In March 2014, the Farm Food Program started to supply produce to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. From March to December farm staff delivered over 3,000 lbs. of lettuce, dandelions and endives.
- Cleveland Botanical Garden: The farm has provided space in the Debra Ann November Research Greenhouse for Cleveland Botanical Garden to grow the vegetables it needs for its Green Corps Program at various urban sites around Cleveland proper.
- The Refugee Response: The farm is providing space for the Refugee Response program in Cleveland to start their crops for their agricultural program.
- Local Initiatives: In 2010, University Farm's high tunnel served as a model for Stanard Farm, a not-for-profit farm that partner with the urban agricultural initiatives of the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The farm also worked directly with Pearl Development in Cleveland to enhance the company's urban agricultural initiatives.
- Local School Educational Programs: Various grade schools from northeast Ohio often come to the farm to learn about farming at the turn of the century, as well as about current methods to plant and harvest food. For example, sixth- and seventh-grade students from Marion Sterling Elementary School visit the farm in the spring and fall to learn about locally-grown food. The farm also collaborates with the Michael R. White School in Cleveland to help teach their students about local agriculture and healthy eating.
Local and In Season
University Farm—like the rest of Case Western Reserve University—has sustainability and responsible environmental practices as its highest priority. Our partnership with the Bon Appétit Management Company allows us to align our sustainability goals for our food production with those of the campus' food service provider, a company with a proven track record of sustainable practices.
This synergy allows for our students, faculty and staff to be served fresh, locally—grown food from their very own farm, located a mere ten miles east of main campus. Supporting local production also helps to reduce packaging, shipping costs, and the time that the produce sits after being harvested—meaning it is fresher, it lasts longer, and it tastes better.
The Farm Food Program also practices sustainability by locally sourcing as many of its products as it can. In an effort to encourage and support the development of local business, we source from local vendors for many of our raw material needs, from seeds to building structures. Our hoop houses are designed by Tunnel Vision Hoops in Cleveland and some of the plastics for our growing containers (like pots and seed trays) come from Middlefield and Akron, from companies like Dillen and Akro-Mils. Other local suppliers include Chagrin Valley Nurseries in Gates Mills, and Waldo and Associates in Perrysburg. Ivy Garth Seeds and Plants Inc. in Chesterland has donated thousands of dollars in seeds over the years, and their support is continued, generously providing nearly another $1000 toward our seed orders since 2011.
Like traditional, weather-dependent farming, our biggest production occurs in the summer and early fall months when sun is abundant, temperatures are high and rain is falling. Each plant has specific optimal growing conditions related to temperature, soil composition, hydration, and sunlight. Each plant also has a specific ideal growing term to ripeness. For this reason, certain crops are only available at certain times of year, and they have peak production when ideal conditions align.
These days, with global production, a global market, and shipping and preservation capabilities, customers have come to expect these crops year-round and it is a challenging shift to eat in season. At the Farm, we are trying to make it possible to eat local produce throughout the year. Warm weather crops are still dependent on warm weather. They cannot be planted until May and typically are done producing after the first frost. However, with the greenhouse and high tunnels, it is possible to extend the growing season for a few crops like broccoli, green beans, carrots, and dark leafy greens. These can be grown with reduced production levels through the winter.
What We Grow
Each year the Farm Food Program has continued to grow and change based on previous years' experiences. Consequently, each year the crops change as well. Below is a list of the 2018 crops.
- Assorted Edible Flowers
- Oyster Mushrooms
- Shiitake Mushrooms
- Green Onions
- Mustard Greens
- Onion (storage)
- Pak Choi
- Peppers (sweet bell and hot)
- Summer squash: Zucchini + yellow squash
- Sweet Potatoes
- Swiss Chard
- Tomatoes (cherry and field)
- Turnip Greens
- Garlic chives
- Garlic mustard
- Wild mushrooms
"Volunteering on the University Farm is a nurturing escape from the stresses of being a graduate student. Sometimes I would go into a dining hall, see what the cooks were making, and think to myself, "I probably had my hands on those vegetables the day before!" It is wonderful to know that the vegetables and herbs that I was harvesting were going to nourish the bodies and minds of those around me on campus."
Kathyrn Abbott, CWRU Student, Farm Volunteer