Program Manager maintains Campus Farm activity

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If students tell Jeremy Moghtader that their dog ate their homework, he’ll probably understand.

He would, however, prefer to hear that another student ate him instead.

As program manager for the campus farm for the past six years, Moghtader is responsible for a farm where students plan, plant, grow and harvest fresh produce to sell to Michigan Dining, donate to the Maize & Blue Cupboard and offer for sale at the Farm Stand.

A living learning laboratory for sustainable food systems work built around the principles of food grown by students for students, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens Campus Farm is an ideal home for Moghtader.

Jeremy Moghtader, left, program manager for the campus farm, stands with Akello Karamoko, farm manager for Keep Growing Detroit. Campus Farm grew 14,000 tomato plants in conjunction with Keep Growing Detroit last spring. (Photo by Jeremy Moghtader)

His maternal grandparents owned and operated a sheep farm in Charlotte, Michigan, and although neither of his parents were farmers, his future and his passion seemed sealed in this farm.

“My father is from Iran, grew up in a very urban environment in Tehran and moved here in his late twenties. My mother grew up on a farm but went to college and became a teacher and social worker” , did he declare.

“My grandparents’ farm was a working farm when I was a kid, and I think there’s no doubt that those experiences were fundamentally important to what matters to me and what I do.”

With a major in economics at UM, Moghtader began taking more natural resources courses in what was then the School of Natural Resources and Environment. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he served in Americorps for a year in Washington State, and he was exhibited at Evergreen State College’s educational campus farm.

“It was a very inspiring place to see this blend of farming and education in a university setting,” he said. “It lodged in my heart this idea of ​​what I wanted to do with my life.”

He then pursued graduate studies at the School of Environment and Sustainable Development to further his interest in the ecology of farming systems.

Moghtader spent 12 years as a farm manager and program director for Michigan State University’s Student Organic Farm, where he helped start an organic farmer training program.

During this time, he stayed in Ann Arbor, helping to found several local organizations related to food systems, so when the opportunity arose to become the campus’ first farm program officer, he was excited about the opportunities. she presented and the decision to come was easy.

“My work on food systems and food production started to flourish when I was in college (at SEAS) and trying to think about and understand how food systems sit at this nexus between how we as a species earn our sustenance and the impacts of these systems relate to human health, the health of the environment and our economic systems,” he said.

“Food systems are intersectional with these fundamental questions as a society and as a species about how we support ourselves now and in the future. It’s a solid anchor for me moving forward.

Jeremy Moghtader, left, program manager for the campus farm, speaks to the Approximately 465 class at the farm.  (Photo by Becca Harley)
Jeremy Moghtader, left, program manager for the campus farm, speaks to the Approximately 465 class at the farm. (Photo by Becca Harley)

The Campus Farm is an ideal playground. One of Moghtader’s early successes was helping students navigate the application process and earn Good Agricultural Practices food safety certification from the United States Department of Agriculture.

This opened the door to a strong partnership selling produce grown on Campus Farm at Michigan Dining and, in Moghtader’s words, “really started the treadmill for students to fulfill their founding vision of growing food for children.” other students and invest the proceeds from that in growing even more food for more students.

Moghtader said the work is done year-round. The campus farm has four passive solar greenhouses totaling approximately 12,000 square feet that allow for the growth of early and late season spinach, arugula, kale, and lettuce throughout the winter.

He also grows all the vegetable, flower and herb transplants for sale from Matthaei-Nichols Kitchen Favorite Plants, where people can start plants for their own gardens. Additionally, last spring the farm grew 14,000 tomato plants in conjunction with Keep Growing Detroit for distribution through that organization’s Garden Resource Program, which supports more than 2,000 urban and community gardens in the city.

But the busiest moment is approaching, if not already on Moghtader and closes it.

“We have eight weeks of really enjoyable outdoor weather that you can count on in any academic year. So as a mostly outdoor farm there’s a lot of action going on in those weeks,” he said. “The cultivation plan is structured to maximize food availability when Dining has the most eaters and the Farm Stand has the most customers, so we’re trying to create this tidal wave of produce around now that stays at a fairly high yield until the snow flies. ”

Moghtader also practices his craft at home and has stepped it up during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he and his family planted blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, adding more perennials to the fruit trees they already had.

“There’s pure joy that happens in the yard when my kids pick bountiful raspberries from those plants we planted together or harvest winter squash,” he said. “It brings all this genuine joy. There is real power in this participation in the food system not just as an eater, but as a producer and an eater, which I think is also true on the campus farm.

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When they’re not tending to their garden, Moghtader and his family enjoy hiking around the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan.

“My whole family truly appreciates and enjoys the incredible, incredible gem that these huge expanses of fresh water and their adjacent ecosystems provide,” he said. “It’s a literally wonderful place.”

While cultivating produce and fostering student leadership are core to his position on the campus farm, Moghtader is also driven by a deeper passion.

“One of my main interests is social, economic and racial justice. Food hits those things so hard,” he said. “There is no sustainability without fairness and justice. Everyone wants and deserves access to good, healthy and sustainable food, and the means to acquire it.

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