Toss the lettuce, hold the buns, add the peppers — but where did they come from?
While the origin of Dining Services’ produce may not be in the backs of students’ minds when they’re drooling over a juicy Commons burger, 2011 Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year students Caitlin Smigelski and Annalise Kjolhede are working hard to increase the likelihood that the produce we eat is grown by our very own peers.
Smigelski and Kjolhede, both environmental science majors, started a nonprofit micro-farm under the guidance of the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence earlier this year. As their KEY project, “Student Supported Agriculture,” description states, “The aim is to create a campus garden in which UR students and community members can cultivate edible crops such as vegetables and herbs to either be sold to Dining Services or used for their own consumption.”
From garlic and onions to tomatoes and peppers, the farm, located next to a string of gardens that are owned and operated by locals and graduate students who live at Whipple Park, offers a local, organic option for Dining Services.
Last Sunday, Grassroots showed support by organizing one of the 7,000 different Facebook “10/10/10 call-to-action” events, and rallied up a handful of students to help plant garlic at Smigelski and Kjolhede’s micro-farm. They were accompanied by locals and Rochester Institute of Technology students who wanted to contribute to their sustainable efforts.
With the help of Grassroots, locals and Gandhi Fellows, Smigelski and Kjolhede hope to grow as much organic produce as possible so that it can be sold to Dining Services. Since it’s a nonprofit organization, the proceeds go toward reinvesting in more seeds and farming products and educating the community about social issues in the organic farming industry.
One of the larger issues that inspired Smigelski and Kjolhede to undertake their KEY project was the amount of wasteful energy and nutrient depletion involved in growing and transporting produce. Through research, they have found that roughly 17 percent of the entire country’s energy is used toward growing and transporting produce. On average, our natural produce travels 1,500 miles before it reaches grocery stores. And even then, the food stays in a truck for one to two weeks before it gets shelved. By the time our vegetables reach our dinner plates, a large amount of their nutrients are depleted.
But Smigelski and Kjolhede hope to give dining a fresh charge.
“Providing food that was grown two miles away from dining and that was picked in the morning and put on the plate later in the afternoon is giving the University high nutrient produce and things that have been grown and transported sustainably,” Smigelski said. “We want to provide a healthy, sustainable option.”
Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence Director Kit Miller, Dean of the College Richard Feldman and UR Facilities have all been key players in getting the project underway.
In mid-June, all parties worked hard to provide the financial backing for UR Facilities to install the waterline and fencing for the project.
But the micro-farm hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the KEY students. Unfortunately, the waterline wasn’t completed in time for the typical tomato growing season in May. Their late June start and high humidity caused most of their tomatoes to blight early.
They also started off with a lot of run-ins with hungry crows. The constant crow pickings prompted them to have a fence built with a hanger line of CDs to reflect sunlight and blind prowling crows from intruding the garden. Some other methods have included grinding garlic with water and mixing it with the plants that are still growing –– apparently, humans are the only species that have any taste for garlic.
But in the larger scope, any setbacks have been relatively minor. Smigelski and Kjolhede have managed to grow enough produce for six delivery loads to Dining Services — meaning, some of the tomatoes on your burger may have come from your very own backyard.A simple 10-minute bus ride on the Blue Line to Whipple Park from the IT Service Center offers an alternative image to the typical college campus architecture associated with UR.
If your Sunday afternoons, Tuesday evenings or Thursday evenings are free, Smigleski and Kjolhede are eager for undergraduates to participate in their workshops and service projects. A major component of KEY projects is for their entrepreneurial venture to outlive the creator.
“We love student participation,” Smigelski said. “We hope to find someone who can carry it on when we graduate.”
With the conclusion of their KEY project, Smigelski and Kjolhede hope to create a T.A. program that will allow qualified students to educate other students about organic farming at their Whipple site.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.



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