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Permaculture Design Team's Food Forest

It was a cold, gray Friday out at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, but in the space between the drive and the UM Campus Farm, UM Permaculture Design Team members and members of Friends of the Campus Farm teamed up in a joint workday to lay some of the groundwork for one of Permaculture Design Team's current projects - the Food Forest. A food forest is a space that uses permaculture principles to replicate natural woodlands while utilizing beneficial relationships between plants to create and support sustainable landscapes that grow food. But what the UM Permaculture Design Team hopes to create with this project is even more than that. Precious Smith, a senior at UM, said, "I'm so excited to do the food forest because this is something that's not happening in many places in the U.S." She emphasized that, given the University's motto of being the leaders and best, it is fitting that there would be a food forest at the botanical gardens, on University property, where it can be used as a living learning laboratory. She added, "it's a good way to build awareness and education. You don't have to be in a classroom to learn it, either. You learn it by living it." Will Schrier, another senior member of UMPDT, further underlined the importance of learning environments like the food forest, saying that, "when there's less available energy we're going to need these living learning labs so that we can continue on into the future."

In 2014, and with the help of their advisor Nate Ayers from Chiwara Permaculture, the Permaculture Design Team applied for and received a Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund grant to use as seed money. They then launched this Kickstarter campaign to help not only raise funds for the installation and maintenance of the food forest, but also to raise awareness for the project and to find passionate supporters in order to ensure the project starts with a strong and sustainable foundation.

Members of UMPDT emphasized that they see this project as something that can bring the Ann Arbor community together. They imagine the food forest being used by younger students and by community members alike. They say, "the installation of this food forest represents the UMPDT's first opportunity to execute a design in an area that is easily accessible to both other students and the community. The UMPDT plans to utilize this space as a place of learning, relaxing, and harvesting. It will also be a space that the public can use to familiarize themselves with food systems and sustainability. It will serve not only as an educational tool for demonstrating the concepts at the heart of permaculture, but also as a source for many fruits, nuts, and herbs that are not currently being cultivated elsewhere on the Botanical Gardens property."

I spoke to Angey Wilson, UMPDT's Program Leader, about what the next steps are for the food forest. In the immediate future, they will be looking for local, sustainability-minded businesses to partner with on this project. She's also hoping that, after some brainstorming among the team over the winter, that they will be able to sit down with a landscape architecture student, a planning student, or some other student who's pursuing a degree in a design-related field for help solidifying their planting plans. Come April and May, they hope to be planting. 

But first, students must complete preparations before winter. One such activity included the focus of the workday - mulching the ground with cardboard and then soil as a way to smother existing poison ivy. Students took breaks from shoveling, wheeling around piles of soil, raking, and folding boxes to bury their hands in the warm soil. But despite the cold, students chattered excitedly about the future of the food forest and their hopes for it. 

To help fund the food forest, check out PDT's Kickstarter page here:

Guest Post: Detroit's Growing Solution by Rob Luzynski

Missing summer during the first snowfall of the season? Warm up with this guest post from student Rob Luzynski on the 17th Annual Detroit Tour of Urban Gardens and Farms! Read on below:

Detroit: a city of many faces. Sometimes it seems that people talk mostly of the ugly ones. On a warm Wednesday evening in early August, we met a different side. As our U of M group joined others from around Detroit and southeast Michigan, we were taken on a journey through the area surrounding Eastern Market to see all of the growth that’s been happening in the city this summer.

Our time at the 17th Annual Detroit Tour of Urban Gardens and Farms, hosted by Keep Growing Detroit, did not begin on the best terms: Arriving a few minutes after 6, we had missed the group. Just as moods were beginning to sour our trip was saved by a woman named Yvonne, who immediately offered to lead us to meet up with the tour without a moment’s hesitation, smiling and laughing the whole time. I’m not sure how the rest of the tour was welcomed upon arrival, but after meeting Yvonne I was secretly glad we’d arrived late. The exchange was a sign of things to come, as we were welcomed by the city with open arms. 

Being that we were on a bike tour, we were given the unique opportunity to experience the surrounding neighborhoods first hand. What struck me were the juxtapositions. A lush, open field next to an abandoned business. A dilapidated house next to a flourishing garden. These and other scenes were evidence of the city’s complexity, of a story often half told.

Joy filled the air with the help of our crossing guards, who doubled as DJs blasting R&B music from speakers attached to their customized bikes. As we paraded through the streets we were greeted with smiles and waves from residents on porches and in the street, and even a few surprised camera flashes. I can’t say I expected hostility, but neither did I expect such a warm reception.

One of the greatest things about the places we saw was their diversity. At Genesis Lutheran church we saw a religious community that employed local youths to build and maintain their garden. The harvest was then sold at a market in the church’s parking lot, where we were greeted with live jazz that gave the scene a festive touch. While weaving through the streets we saw countless neighborhood gardens, ranging from a few sunflowers to larger lots with edibles of all kinds. On our last stop we visited a man and his family who had over the years purchased the property surrounding their house and created an oasis of life that offered reprieve from the miles of concrete and houses in the area.

All of the places we visited on the tour had one thing in common, something that existed beyond the rows of plants we had been so eager to see. Whether it was through faith, neighborly ties, or family, groups of people large and small came together to do what they could for themselves and for their community. Sure, I was taught in class about urban gardening, about responsible land use and decreased transportation. But what struck me most was that these people, in an area often known for its crime and poverty, had come together create something beautiful. Even for students like us, perhaps especially for students like us, there was a lot to learn.

As we ate our provided local feast and perused the Good Food Bazaar for opportunities on how to get involved in local food initiatives, I found myself reminiscing about our evening in Detroit. It was an amazing opportunity to see sustainable systems in action, valuable for both the earth and for the people that make them possible. I will surely be attending the tour again next year, and I hope that you all will as well. More info can be found at

Internships for Vibrant Futures - Part II

Last week the UMSFP blog visited Saloni Dagli, who is in Seattle participating in a fellowship with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. This week the UMSFP blog brings us to Boston, Massachusetts, to see what former UMSFP Communications Specialist Hannah Gingerich has been up to since spring.

Gingerich, a senior in Program in the Environment, is interested in how food systems tie into issues of homelessness and hunger. She co-founded a chapter of the national Food Recovery Network here on campus, which recovers perishable unused food from UM dining halls and delivers it to Food Gatherers and other local food banks. The Food Recovery Network has grown in strides since its formation in 2012, recently receiving both a Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund grant to expand its efforts, as well as a Michigan Difference award in recognition of their influence on campus.

Read more: Internships for Vibrant Futures - Part II

Internships for Vibrant Futures

Learning doesn’t stop at the end of winter semester for students involved in sustainable food! Spring and Summer are prime times for hands-on opportunities working with various aspects of food systems. This summer UMSFP is sharing blog posts on internships and other learning experiences in the realm of sustainable food to help students navigate and become aware of different opportunities that are available to them. Check out the interview below to see what incoming UMSFP Communications Specialist Saloni Dagli has been up to this summer with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program.

What’s your name? Saloni

What year are you in school? Junior

What are you studying? Environmental Engineering with a minor in Urban Studies

Are you involved with any other clubs or programs? UMSFP, Friends of the Campus Farm, Graham Scholars, Bluelab Living Building Challenge Team, Engineering Honors Program


Read more: Internships for Vibrant Futures

Introducing... the "Help Yourself" Garden at the School of Dentistry!

This year, the School of Dentistry will be growing a vegetable garden! Join us each Wednesday and Friday to plant, weed, and harvest vegetables from around the world. Relax during lunch, meet other SoD gardeners, pick some fresh produce, and invite your patients to do the same. No gardening experience necessary.


Ongoing work days will happen on Mondays at 4pm and  Wednesdays at noon - stop by any time!


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