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The Daily Illini

Local produce farm in the works for UI

By Shawn Adderly

The University’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences is planning to build a student-run farm in an effort to promote sustainability.

The farm, to be located on the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and Windsor Road, will be funded by the $5 sustainability fee which all students pay, and some of the food produced on the land will end up in University dining halls by fall, said Zachary Grant, 2008 master’s graduate of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Initially the farm is expected to be two acres with the possibility of reaching up to 10 acres.

In the spring, the farm will grow salad greens, and in the summer, it will start producing tomatoes and melons. The first two years of production are planned to be outdoors, while future production intends to employ high tunnel structures which, unlike a greenhouse, do not rely on heaters or fans. The idea behind using high tunnel structures is to allow farmers to extend their growing season, Grant said.

“Cold hardy crops will be able to be grown year-round,” Grant said. “These techniques have been around for a while, and are coming back into use.”

Organizers are planning for the farm to be run by volunteers and one or two student interns hired with the help of Students for Environmental Concerns, a Registered Student Organization on campus.

The direction of the farm will be set by an advisory board, consisting of two faculty members, a representative from Students for Environmental Concerns, and the Horticulture club.

“Collaborating will be important for the success of our project,” said Bruce Branham, professor and interim director of NRES. “We will be working with other faculty, staff and community members with experience in these areas.”

The intent of the project is not only to provide good tasting local produce, but also to make the local community aware about where its food comes from.

“If people don’t realize there is a difference between a pepper grown a mile down the road and a pepper from California, then we aren’t making as large of an impact as we can,” said Connie Ger, senior in LAS and community outreach chair of Students for Environmental Concerns.

From a departmental standpoint, Branham hopes that the farm will be able to reach NRES’s mission to teach, research, and reach out to the community at large. He said he hopes for the creation of a course that teaches students how to run their own small farm, supplemented by hands-on experience and interactions with local farmers.

“Students will be able to see what’s involved in the planning, management and the hard work needed to keep a farm running,” said Branham.

He said he also hopes that students from elementary schools and the community will be able to come and learn from the farm.

The farm will not be a certified organic farm, and it will not increase the cost of student food. However, Brahman expects that University Dining Services will have to pay a small premium.

He believes the quality of the produce they receive will justify it.

“There’s no reason to believe that this farm will not succeed,” Branham said. “It is well capitalized, and if everything works out it will become a self-sustaining entity.”

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