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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Farm Forward at the University of Michigan


With strong support from the university and from students, Campus Farm and Sustainable Food Program managers Jeremey Moghtader and Alex Bryan bring continuity and expertise to a growing food movement at Michigan.

The U-M Campus Farm began in 2012 on a small plot of land near the Project Grow garden at U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Dixboro Rd.

While the actual growing of plants started that year, the idea for the farm first took root in the late 1990s, according to Matthaei-Nichols director and U-M School of Natural Resources professor Bob Grese. Several faculty members, in particular Catherine Badgley and Ivette Perfecto, introduced a course in sustainable agriculture. Not long after, students and faculty began asking for places on campus where food gardens could be located, Grese recalls.
University of Michigan students working at the Campus Farm in the summer.
The students are enthusiastic about working at the farm and about growing
plants that are used for food.

The campus gardening trend picked up steam with the formation of the student gardening group Cultivating Community in 2004. This collaborative project by U-M students, faculty and staff, community members, and Matthaei-Nichols to grow vegetables and herbs on campus made possible a demonstration food garden at the Ginsberg Center on campus. As interest in campus food and gardening continued to grow, Grese explains, a group of students in Dr. Michael Schriberg’s class “Sustainability in the Campus” developed a proposal for creating a campus farm in 2011. “The students approached me about locating it at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens site,” says Grese, “and submitted a proposal to the newly created Planet Blue Student Initiative Fund.” The idea became a reality when Planet Blue provided the nascent farm with $42,000 of seed funding.
Jeremy Moghtader (left) is the new Campus Farm
manager. Standing next to Jeremy is Alex Bryan,
manager of the sustainable food program.

New Managers Bring Continuity to the Farm and Campus Food Movements
The campus farm coincided with other food-related initiatives at U-M, says Grese. This included hiring of new faculty in LSA’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, School of Public Health, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Taubman College as part of the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. This was followed by the creation of an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate program in Sustainable Food Systems, and the growth in a number of student organizations devoted to sustainable food and the creation of the Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP). With all of this energy and commitment, Grese says, “the Campus Farm has become a centerpiece for Matthaei-Nichols of our commitment to environmental sustainability and to our desire to engage students and classes in hands-on learning.”

Given the complexity of the various food-related projects and the nature of campus life and its changing cast of students, the need for a farm manager and for someone who could coordinate the student food groups was recognized early on.

In the fall 2016, Jeremy Moghtader and Alex Bryan were brought on board. Both are U-M alumni and bring extensive experience. Jeremy was most recently Director of Programs at the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm. Alex was Director of Agricultural Programs for the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Together they’ll help nurture longer-term relationships with everything from potential markets for the farms produce to faculty teaching courses related to sustainable agriculture, Grese says.

Running a farm is a group effort. Moghtader sees himself as a facilitator and collaborator. “My wish list,” he says, “is to engage openly with people and hear what they have to say. I’m a deeply collaborative person, and that’s one reason that the farm manager job appealed to me.” The Campus Farm is a place where strong student leadership makes a difference, Moghtader says. “I also see the farm as a nexus of coursework and thriving learning opportunities for faculty and students,” he adds.

Alex Bryan’s position as manager of U-M Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP) falls under U-M Dining. Alex was brought in to help coordinate the many student groups on campus that are linked to food-related programs. These include Ann Arbor Student Food Co., Food Recovery Network; Friends of the Campus Farm, Maize and Blue Cupboard, UMBees, and several more. “The dining connection is related to student life,” says Alex. Food touches students’ lives in so many ways, and Alex’s mission is to bring together the several student-driven strands of the food movement on campus.
The student beekeeping group UMBees regularly meets in the Campus Farm,
where there's an apiary. When students study bees in the farm, they not only
get to observe the honeybee up close; they also make the connection between
pollination and plants and how everything in the ecosystem fits together.

Early on, students and faculty recognized the long-term need for a farm manager. And within just a few years of having the farm at Matthaei that need became even more pressing. In the first few years students and Matthaei-Nichols staff made the farm work with a series of dedicated and enthusiastic student interns who served as farm managers during the summer, and additional students who worked in a similar capacity during the school year. “We hope that with a farm manager in place we’ll be better able to focus the farm efforts and provide greater stability in farm operations from year to year, “says Grese. “While some of our staff had direct farming experience, they didn’t have the time or perhaps the right expertise to answer the kinds of questions and challenges we encountered.”

New Trend, Old Roots
If the notion of a farm on campus feels like a new idea, it’s not. Arguably the oldest campus farm in the country started at Berea College in Kentucky in 1871.

Back then the majority of U.S. jobs were in agriculture, so having a campus with a farm made sense. It was about training future farmers in a line of work that touches everyone’s life: the production of food.

Today’s super-efficient food production and growing methods allow fewer farms to produce more food. But these economies of scale come at a price, as Laura Sayre and Sean Clark explain in their book Fields of Learning: The Student Farm Movement in North America. The modern industrial farm relies on steady supplies of fresh water, cheap energy and stable climates, they write, even as those resources decline as we move into the twenty-first century. “We now have to look at new ways to farm that rely more on ‘resilience’ and ecological principles rather than industrial principles,” according to Sayre and Clark.
A few interesting facts about US farming you might not have known.

The timing is perfect for campus farms. There’s a food revolution across the land, one that opens up opportunities for young farmers, Sayre and Clark observe. The revolution is driven by concerns about the links between food production and the environment, human health, food safety, and food justice. “The emerging generation,” they conclude, “fits this food revolution very well since these farmers share many of these same concerns and desires.”

In the 12 years Moghtader worked as the director of Michigan State University’s organic farm, “the perspective on food has undergone an extreme expansion. People want to consume food that’s minimally processed, whether it’s a niche brand or on a grocery store shelf.” There’s so much national food awareness captured by people like Michael Pollan or Michele Obama, Moghtader adds. “Food and farming are such a part of who we are, with impacts that ripple outward and touch everything.”

Students on campuses everywhere are plugging into a well of interest in the environment, equality, and issues of justice surrounding food. “It’s exciting to see the intellectual engagement around food,” Moghtader says. “The Campus Farm stands as the nexus of these hopes and dreams.”

We face complex challenges for transforming food systems toward environmental sustainability and social justice, says Jennifer Blesh, assistant professor in the U-M School of Natural Resources & Environment and a member of the farm manager search committee. New approaches and a new generation of scholars and practitioners are needed who can collaborate in an interdisciplinary way, she adds. “To help students develop these competencies and skills, we need to increase opportunities for engaged and experiential learning about agriculture and all aspects of the food system.”
During the fall and winter, students gather in one of the
greenhouses at Matthaei. There will soon be a hoop house
to extend the growing season but until then students had to use
the greenhouse space at Matthaei to grow plants in the winter.




















Hoop House Will Extend Growing Season and Engage Students More in the Farm
The hoop house begins to rise. Eventually, the outside
will be covered with plastic. Then plants that tolerate
some cold will be planted. Because the hoop house
extends the growing season, students will be able to
engage with the farm during the academic year. 


One highly visible part of the Campus Farm that passersby can see from the road is the new hoop house. The hoop house, Moghtader explains,  brings a a lot of diversity for growing more food over a longer season. It changes the economics and the opportunities in growing food, Moghtader says. "It also allows students to engage with growing food, because students are traditionally here during the fall and winter months and not during the growing season." The hoop house, Moghtader continues, allows you to plant to the end of October. These are cold hardy crops, he says. And while the hoop house doesn’t keep the plants from freezing it does increase the ambient temperature inside. The hoop house, also known as a passive solar greenhouse, is an agricultural concept that 's been around a long time in various forms. Think the bell jar placed over vegetables, or a cold frame used to let light in but protect plants from the cold. All of these concepts, old and new, work on the principal of using the sun to warm the interior and dramatically extend the growing season.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

School of Natural Resources and Environment Students Present Their Research Projects Dec. 5-8, 2016

Students in Sheila Schueller's ecology class (NRE 509) worked on research projects that are based on pilot projects with just a few days of data collection.

The students are presenting on their work during the labs this week. Drop in anytime if you're interested in seeing what the students have discovered.

Here's a list of the projects. Check out the wide-ranging nature of topics:



Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Ice Rink that Wasn't at Nichols Arboretum

The UM School of Public Health's Anniversary edition of its alumni magazine Findings tells the story of the push to make Nichols Arboretum into a winter sports facility. We think it's a good idea it never happened!

Take a look at the story:



Monday, November 28, 2016

First Nations Members Visit Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Fifty-seven participants, representing diverse Anishinaabe, additional tribal, and U-M perspectives, visited Matthaei for a day-long series of working meetings on August 29, 2016. The strengthened relationships, years in the making, are allowing us to plan collaborative projects at the intersections of stewardship, sustainability, and survival. As funding allows, look for updates on projects like Heritage Seeds, Anishinaabe-based interpretation of Michigan Native Plants, and more.

See below image for a list of individuals appearing in photo.



Participants at the Anishinaabe, Tribal & UM partners meeting at the
UM Matthaei Botanical Gardens, August 29, 2016

57 participants were present through the day-long meeting. 31 were present for the group photo. Left to right (regardless of row):

Dr. Ben Secunda         UM NAGPRA Office
Dr. Stephanie Rowley, Professor UM School of Education and UM Office of Research
Kevin Finney              Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomie Indians / Intertribal Food Summit (meeting co-chair)
Judy Nowack              Associate Vice President for Research, UM, retired
Andy Sell                    UM SNRE graduate student
Elspeth Geiger            UM LSA graduate student
Dr. David C. Michener, UM Matthaei-Nichols (meeting co-chair)
Anita Heard                Research Center Coordinator, Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways– Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan
Debbie Taylor             UM College of Engineering
Joe Reilly                    Cherokee, American Indian Health & Family Services
George Martin             Head Veteran, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomie Indians
Bob Grese                   Director, UM Matthaei-Nichols, Professor SNRE
Shannon Martin          Executive Director, Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways– Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan
Sydney Martin            NAGPRA Representative, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomie Indians
Dr. James Penner-Hahn, Interim Director, UM Museum of Anthropological Archaeology
Dr. Phil Deloria           Professor, UM-LSA American Culture: Native American Studies; History
Dr. Scott M. Herron    Professor of Biology - Ferris State University, Visiting Professor – UM LSA- Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (formerly)
Dr. Sonya Atalay        Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Anishinaabe-Ojibwe)
Kristy Phillips             Citizen Potawatomie Nation
Dr. Kyle White           Professor, Michigan State University, Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Dr. Lisa Young           Lecturer and Research Associate, UM – LSA Anthropology
Mike Kost                   UM Matthaei-Nichols
Brad Kasberg              UM SNRE
Dr. Robin Kimmerer   Professor, SUNY-Syracuse; Citizen Pottawatomie Nation
Steward King              Wasauksing First Nation (Ontario)
Barbara Wall               Trent University Indigenous Studies PhD Candidate (Ontario), Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Carla May Dhillon      UM SNRE graduate student,
Ron Yob,                    Lecturer, Acquinas College, Tribal Chairman - Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians
Dr. Nastassia Vlasova, Central Botanical Gardens – Minsk, Belarus; UM – Matthaei Nichols Visiting Scholar
Catriona Mortell-Windecker, UM Matthaei-Nichols

Dr. Maria Ferria-Pontes, Fulbright Scholar (previously Wayne State University)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Autumn Splendor at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum

October brings cooler temps and a ramping up of fall colors in southern Michigan.

Over the next week or two, fall colors at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum will unfold in all their majesty. Here are some sights----big-picture and small-scale---that Matthaei-Nichols staff and volunteer photographers captured at the Gardens and Arboretum. Click on any picture to see an expanded gallery of images.

Visit the Botanical Gardens: 1800 N. Dixboro Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48105; and Nichols Arboretum: 1610 Washington Hts., Ann Arbor. 734-647-7600. mbgna.umich.edu.




Volunteer photographer Zohair Mohsen took this shot at Matthaei Botanical
Gardens of a tiger moth caterpillar (Arctia caja) bristling with hairs.
(Photo taken 10-5-16.)

Volunteer photographer Zohair Mohsen captured the hidden beauty of
cow parsnip (
Heracleum maximum) seeds. (Photo taken 10-5-16.)

Poison ivy is a problem plant for a lot of reasons
but its fall leaves offer a bounty of subtle hues.
(Photo taken by volunteer photographer 
Zohair Mohsen: 10-5-16.)

Volunteer photographer Zohair Mohsen caught these elm leaves in
their startling transition between summer and fall. (Photo taken at
Matthaei: 10-5-16.)


The Alex Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum shows off its prairie grasses.
(Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

The Alex Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum shows off its prairie grasses.
(Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

The river front along the Huron River in Nichols Arboretum is a favorite spot for
contemplation and observation. An old box elder provides a
sitting spot for visitors. (Photo by Michele Yanga-10-7-16.)

Looking west up the Huron River along the river front at
Nichols Arboretum. (Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

Always time for a selfie at the river front in Nichols Arboretum. (Photo by Lars
Miller: 10-9-16.)

The uncharacteristically quiet valley in Nichols Arboretum. (Photo by Lars
Miller: 10-9-16.)


Numerous benches in Nichols Arboretum offer a welcome place to
rest and contemplate. (Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

The footpath along the prairie in Nichols
Arboretum is a favorite place to walk.
(Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

Why not study next to the Huron River on a
perfect fall day in the Arb?
(Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

Sumac turns a stunning red each fall. These are along the path that
circles Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum. (Photo by Lars Miller: 10-9-16.)

Hop hornbeam show its vivid yellow leaves and hop-like
seed pods. (Photo by Michele Yanga-10-7-16.)


The Gateway Garden at Matthaei blooms with vivid colors
right up to the first frost. (Photo taken 10/4/16)

Another view of the Gateway Garden at Matthaei. This garden
is a favorite of birds, butterflies, and brides, and it
blooms with vivid colors 
right up to
the first frost. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)

A viburnum at Matthaei begins to turn a beautiful shade of
purplish-red. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)

A cloud of white aster drifts across the landscape at Matthaei.
(Photo taken 10/4/16.)

Purple aster frames a bench at Matthaei.
(Photo taken 10/4/16.)

Sumac guarantees a show of red leaves each fall. (Photo taken Matthaei 10/4/16.)


White anemone stands above the landscape each fall in the perennial
garden at Matthaei. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)

Green for now, these gingko trees will turn a
dazzling gold almost all
at once as cold
weather nears. 
(Photo taken 10/4/16.)

Trees, reeds, grasses, woody shrubs, and water make a perfect fall palette
near Willow Pond at Matthaei. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)
Dogwood surprises with its purple hues at Matthaei. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)

Orange leaves against a blue sky at Matthaei. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)

A Matthaei vista with maple trees. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)

A Matthaei vista with maple trees. (Photo taken 10/4/16.)






Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Birds, Bees, and Bonsai: October Programs at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum Highlight a Diversity of Topics

Each month throughout the year Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum offers a diverse selection of programs brought to you by our community and non-profit partners. Groups like Washtenaw Audubon Society, Sierra Club Huron Valley, Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Center, and Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers bring fascinating---and for the most part free---educational programs on topics relevant to what's happening in the world of plants, animals, horticulture, and more.




Read on for some of our October 2016 offerings. All programs held at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48105, unless noted otherwise:


Tues., Oct. 11, 7 pm
New Impetus from Old Germany: My Strange and Terrible Journey to the Heart of German Beekeeping
Andrew Mills, a lecturer in German at the University of Michigan and a member of UMBees in ANn Arbor, recounts his summer 2016 trip through Germany, meeting beekeepers along the way and discovering what it means to keep bees in Germany. 


Wed., Oct 12, 6-7:30 pm 
Catching Your Breath
A free monthly program for caregivers of adults with memory loss. Designed for learning skills for continued health and well-being. Program is free but please register directly with the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center: 734.936.8803. Presented by Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Free.



Thurs., Oct. 13, 1-2:30 pm

Photo of ichiyo school arrangement
courtesy Ikebana International.
Ikebana: Japanese Flower Arranging
Create your own seasonal Ikebana arrangement with guidance by a certified instructor. Workshops are the second Thursday of each month from 1:00 - 2:30 in room 125. Cost is $20.00 which covers flowers and instructor. Reservations required. Info:  a2ikebana@gmail.com. Presented by Ann Arbor Ikebana International Chapter.



Sat., October 15, 11 am
Vanda coerulea Orchids
Learn about the Vanda coerulea orchid, also called the blue orchid, and about how orchids are judged for the American Orchid Society at the Great Lakes Judging Center’s monthly program. Today’s session presented by Alex Challis, Great Lakes Judging Center accredited judge. Presented by Great Lakes Judging Center (Orchids). Free.

Mon., Oct. 17, 7:30 pm
Photo: One of the most famous dunes in the
world: Michigan's Sleeping Bear dune.
Dune Ecology and Restoration
Shaun Howard, Nature Conservancy Project Manager for Eastern Lake Michigan, discusses this well-known Great Lakes habitats and the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to restore them. Presented by Michigan Botanical Club. Free.


Tues., Oct. 18, 7:30 pm
Improving Trail Connectivity in Ann Arbor
Despite the many recent improvements in Ann Arbor’s non-motorized system, there are still some major discontinuities in the trail system. Larry Deck, a board member of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, will present the organization’s proposal for how to close the gaps in the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail and build the Campus-to-Campus (C2C) Bikeway. Matthaei-Nichols associate director Karen Sikkenga will also talk about the planned Dixboro Rd. trail. Free. Presented by Sierra Club Huron Valley. Free.



Photo: Resplendent quetzal, the
national bird of Guatemala. Photo
by Francesco Veronesi via Flickr.
Wed., Oct. 19, 7:30 pm
Birding in Guatemala
Join Bryn Martin for a program on Washtenaw Audubon’s most recent overseas field trip, to the Central American country of Guatemala, where there are a number of birds found nowhere else in the world. Bryn Martin is an avid world birder, a high school teacher, and Washtenaw Audubon’s field trip coordinator. Presented by Washtenaw Audubon Society. Free.





























Sat., Oct. 22, 1:30-3 pm
Alpines with Peter Korn
Presenter: Great Lakes Chapter North American Rock Garden Society

Photo: Swedish rock gardener Peter Korn.
Renowned Swedish rock gardener Peter Korn discusses the natural history of alpines as it relates to their cultivation  in non-alpine environments. The gardening conditions in Sweden are more similar to Michigan than many parts of Western Europe, and his rock gardening experiences and techniques should be adaptable to gardening to our Michigan and Great Lakes region climates and soils. Besides that, Peter is an immensely energetic young gardener whose undertakes vast gardening enterprises that will inspire us all. Presented by the Great Lakes Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. Free. For more information: reznicek@umich.edu.

Wed., Oct. 26, 7 pm
Best Practices for Bonsai Fertilizing
Aaron Wiley, a local horticulturist with a penchant for bonsai, discusses the reasons, goals, timing, objectives, and kinds of fertilizing for bonsai. Presented by Ann Arbor Bonsai Society.

Photo: Satsuki azalea on display
at Matthaei Botanical Gardens,
June 2016. Photo by Michele Yanga.





Friday, September 30, 2016

Living Plant Dresses Sow Excitement at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Staff at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum are prepping for an unusual holiday exhibit that will open the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The exhibit is called "Avant Garden: Weaving Fashion and Nature Together."

The show was inspired by the influence nature has on fashion and couture and will feature exhibits on textiles, plant-based fabric dyes, and plants used as the basis of clothing, for example, bamboo, rayon, and linen.

One display sure to capture people's attention is the collection of "living dresses" the Matthaei-Nichols crew is putting together over the next weeks. At the end of September the dress made from succulents was really starting to come together. Staff attached sphagnum moss to a dressmaker's wire form. Over that they began painstakingly to apply succulents in alternating swaths in the dress part. The pictures below tell the story best. We're looking forward to the exhibit! Should be pretty cool.

Update, October 10, 2016: the succulent dress is nearly complete. Take a look:

Plants with exotic looks, such as succulents
and cactus, are all the rage. This dress is one
of six examples of "living couture" that staff at
Matthaei-Nichols are getting ready for the
holiday exhibit, "Avant Garden." Not all of the
outfits will be made of living plant material:
some will be constrcuted with bark, cut
evergreens, and moss.


Matthaei-Nichols visitor services manager
David Betz helps horticulturist Carmen
Leskoviansky apply sphagnum moss to a wire
dress frame. The moss will help hold the
succulents in place and retain moisture,
ensuring that the living dress will be both
lightweight and easy to care for.

All the moss is attached to the frame. ready for the
succulents!

Carmen begins applying the living plants.

After she applies the "hem," Carmen begins
adding more plants in a whorled pattern.

Dress portion nearly done!