As the Miami University farm struggles financially, hope abounds in CSA programs, regenerative growing and one tough farmer
BY: SARA COY
Just down the road from the precise brick buildings that make up Miami University, the beauty continues in a different way at the school’s Institute for Food farm. On this 8-acre farm, Miami students of all majors join faculty and staff in sustainable food production, which is sold to students, local people and University Dining. Tomatoes, kale, peppers, squash – you name it, Miami grows it. But the farm’s future is in jeopardy. This 2021 season could be crunch time.
“We do worry about the finances,” says Dr. Jonathan Levy. He’s the director of Miami’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, which oversees the farm on Somerville Road since its founder, Dr. Marguerite Shaffer, left in spring 2020.
“Shaffer was the driving force of the financial aspect of the farm,” Levy adds. “She got USDA grants and money gifted from private donors, and was able to set it all up.” Then the pandemic hit – a double whammy, as the university’s overall finances took a beating and no one was named immediately to replace Shaffer.
This story of a struggling farm that hundreds of students have helped establish – and the mental health benefits it has provided during the pandemic – prompted our 2021 Environmental Journalism class to produce a series of stories about agricultural hope in a time of crisis. We spent time on the farm with its guru, Director Charles Griffin. We learned about community supported agriculture (CSA) and how it stabilizes finances for many farmers while providing fresh, local food for us. And we studied regenerative agriculture, which focuses on practices that replenish soil and sequester carbon, aiding the planet.
Over the last few weeks, Greenhawks Media has shared our stories, photos and videos. Gia Mariana, a senior majoring in zoology and individualized studies, knows the value of the Miami farm for academic and health reasons. “We got to be outside, and do something that was a little more fun and less academic for a couple hours — instead of just sitting on a Zoom call,” she said last spring.
In fact, the farm has had more volunteers than ever during the pandemic, Griffin said. Many professors continued to incorporate lessons into farm work – including our environmental journalism class, taught by Annie-Laurie Blair, a senior clinical lecturer in journalism and environmental science.
We hope they inspire the Miami community to rise up and help save our farm.
For love and honor… and sustainability.
Fiona Lawler and Jenna Landgraf contributed.