University of Maryland kicks off sustainable campus farm

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

The Terp Farm will bring fresh produce to a variety of campus dining locations.

By Megan Warmouth, Associate Editor

In late April, the University of Maryland (UMD) dining services team, in College Park, launched the Terp Farm, the university’s new sustainable vegetable farm. Located 15 miles off campus, fruits and vegetables grown on the two and one-quarter acres of land reserved for Terp Farm will be served within a variety of dining services programs. “There’s a lot of wonderful models out there of other campuses that have vegetable farms and have had students involved in food production,” says Allison Lilly, sustainability and wellness coordinator for UMD dining services. “We are excited about this initiative because we are coming from within dining services, so rather than being external to the dining or foodservice provider on the campus, this farm is going to produce food that will go directly into our commissary and into the dining halls for students.”

With the help of a grant from the UMD Sustainability Fund, the Terp Farm was established as part of the 2012 UMD Sustainable Food Commitment initiative under which the university aims to source at least 20% of produce served on campus fairly, humanely, locally and ecologically sound by 2020. A Sustainable Food Working Group composed of faculty, staff and students was formed to monitor progress and maintain project focus.

“Through that group over the past two years we’ve talked a lot about utilization of the [small] community gardens that we have on campus and how to educate and connect students with food and the food system and understand it more holistically,” Lilly says. “One of the ideas that we kept coming back to was the potential to expand food production so that students could really get their hands on and witness firsthand where our food comes from.”

The pilot project will include both field and high-tunnel crop production, which will be harvested in the fall and spring semesters. “We are going to be doing a lot of focusing on season extension, using those high tunnels and other types of methods so that we are doing the bulk of our harvesting when students are here,” Lilly says. “So we have to focus on what we can grow during those seasons so that we can bring those foods into the dining halls for students.”

Since the quantity of produce that will be harvested from Terp Farm is only a fraction of what the campus will need to produce the 26,000 meals per day that it serves, dining services plans to spotlight Terp Farm yields in specific dining areas where it can use the opportunity to educate students about the farm and sustainable sourcing. That includes at Green Tidings, the campus food truck, which already serves local and sustainable foods. In addition, the team plans to serve Terp Farm produce within Harvest, the campus’s all-you-care-to-eat salad and panini station.

“We really want to highlight the products that are coming from the farm so that students can find them and have those conversation moments and learning opportunities about them,” Lilly says. “[It’s] a sliver of what our produce needs are, but we hope to maximize the education and outreach associated with that product to get students more interested and excited about it and also see how we can expand that program.”

The Terp Farm officially kicked off April 30 with a launch event attended by students, university administration, dining services staff and representatives from the college of agriculture. The event included a meet and greet with Guy Kilpatrick, the Terp Farm’s newly appointed lead agricultural technician, demonstrations and sampling by dining services chefs, presentations by graduating seniors from the plant sciences program who prepared proposals for what might be grown and what systems might be put in place on the farm to maintain environmental and sustainability efficiencies. In addition, dietetic students discussed nutrition and the value of fresh produce in one’s diet.