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January 16, 2013

OU urban gardeners grow

By Linda Shepard
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER HILLS — Oakland University’s Student Organic Farming Program will continue to thrive, thanks to a $20,400 grant from the Americana Foundation.

The effort assists a community outreach program designed to improve access to fresh, local produce at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, among other endeavors.

“They took over the Baldwin Center community gardens,” Americana Foundation Executive Director Marlene Fluharty said about the OU student program. “We had funded their youth education program. When this grant request came through, it was a good way to make sure that program kept running.”

The funding, which will be matched by OU, will support hiring a farm manager to oversee farm production, coordinate and work with student volunteers, assist with community outreach programs, and pursue sales of produce on the OU campus.

“We’re looking to establish a long-term, sustainable campus and community gardening program that has educational advantages, as well,” said Fay Hansen, associate professor of biological sciences and faculty advisor to the Student Organic Farming Program, in a statement. “This grant will go a long way in helping us to move toward that goal.”

In addition to the work with the Baldwin Center, the OU student program works with the Kennedy School in Pontiac and young adults from the OU Center for Autism Research, Education and Support — teaching them how to grow healthy food and about its importance to community health and welfare.

The farm program originated as a student club at OU in 2008, but it has evolved into a multifaceted operation that teaches more than 50 students organic gardening during summer classes that emphasize hands-on participation.

Students also organize efforts to help improve fresh produce access and to advocate for organic farms and urban garden development in and around Pontiac. Future plans include expanding a cultivation area, creating a greenhouse, pursuing organic advocacy and becoming a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic farm.

“Students here are really beginning to learn where their food comes from and what it means to their health,” Hansen said. “We’d like to see that kind of learning happening on an even wider scale, as we move forward.”

The Americana Foundation, based in Novi, supports educational and advocacy programs for the preservation of American agriculture, the conservation of natural resources, and the protection and presentation of expressions of America’s heritage.

The foundation focuses on two specific areas — American heritage expressed through its material culture, and natural resource and agriculture through land use and growth management.  

“We fund the protection of the agricultural base in Michigan, a little bit of natural resources and our American heritage program area,” Fluharty said. “Also, major museum efforts. Tollgate Farms (in Novi) also received a grant for youth education for their program for children age 5 to 11 and some adult-education programs.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Linda Shepard at lshepard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1065.