Kendall Gilbert

Using organic agriculture systems for introducing a model farming fieldwork program at Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University’s Community Garden was established in 2008 by students who were interested in pioneering a renewed interest in gardening and agriculture while promoting local foods and developing an organic food system. According to the US Department of Agriculture, organic agriculture is "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony.”
Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing enterprises of US agriculture and agriculture continues to be Michigan’s second largest industry. With West Michigan representing the largest food- growing region in the state, it is essential that Grand Valley State University recognize the need for contemporary agricultural education among college students and promotes the availability of land, resources, and research opportunities to study organic and sustainable farming methods.
The purpose of this project is to utilize the community garden for agricultural studies, research, education, and outreach which will help build enhanced opportunities for students and the campus community to engage in farming fieldwork. Our goal is to demonstrate the potential that this valuable parcel of land has for fostering creative interdisciplinary agricultural research and projects. We seek to conduct both physical and social science fieldwork that will analyze the methodology and application of organic farming methods in the community garden.
Our methodology involved three components: research, education, and outreach/extension. The research component is focused on three areas of organic agriculture practice which include improving soil fertility and crop vitality through the application of organic matter, exploring best management practices when creating organic agricultural food systems, and determining how organic agriculture can be an effective means to ensuring sustainable land management. We have performed the proposed research within raised-beds, container, and ground implanted test plots within a 2,000 sq. foot area in the community garden.
Our educational component has involved the campus and regional community by bringing in student groups to conduct garden projects. Our outreach/extension component focuses on expanding community partnerships, encouraging on- campus civic engagement and service learning, and obtaining sustainable funding sources. Through this project we developed an agriculture summer field practicum through the Environmental Studies department. We were able to partner with a number of interuniversity departments and community organizations in order to further develop agriculture programs, secure funding for the garden, and plan a community fresh food drive to be held in September.

Faculty Mentor: Edwin Joseph, Geography

Page last modified July 13, 2010