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Solidarity with Save the Urban Farm!

Nicholas ecology environment campus

The Urban Farm has been a center for community and ecological knowledge sharing at the University of Oregon for decades. Now, in the wake of a second 500 million dollar donation by Phil and Penny Knight, construction for phase 2 of the Knight Campus has brought the farm under the chopping block.

The student-led organization Save the Urban Farm has been leading opposition to the project. Their main concerns lie in the use of the space known as the back 40 as a staging area during construction, and in impact on the eastern border.

The construction, planned to begin January of 2023, also will have the consequences of blocking morning sun from reaching parts of the farm, the use of the area between the woodshop and the fine arts studio as a utility tunnel, as well as further construction related disturbance (dust, noise, stress/damage to plants and native species who live on the farm).

This is not the first time the farm has come under threat. In 1986, the University hoped to develop similar large research buildings in the North Campus space, but facing resistance from members of the architecture department coupled with pushback from students, the University redirected development elsewhere.1

In the time since ‘86, the program has grown immensely. It sees over 300 students throughout a typical school year, with classes tending to fill up within hours of open registration. It has acted as a model for urban farm programs at universities across the country. The ‘20 and ‘21 harvests yielded hundreds of pounds of fresh produce for donation to students and community members. The farm is known for working closely with local organizations such as the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, FOOD for Lane County, Huerto de la Familia, and The School Garden Project of Lane County.

It is a program that uses every foot of the space they have available to them; any reduction would come as a major setback.

As the plans are drawn, a large strip of the eastern border (home to garden beds, bee hives, a mushroom area, and cedar, english walnut, persimmon, and apple trees) is to be absorbed by the development. While protecting this space would consist of convincing the University to redraw the footprint of a half billion dollar project, preventing the temporary use of the back 40 as a staging area would mean only selecting another nearby space.

The back 40 holds almost half of the farm’s usable garden space, including over 30 producing orchard trees, over a dozen Port Orford Cedars, and garden beds used to grow vegetables and perennials. The space has been built up and cultivated by the farm over the past 30 years.

Mitigating measures suggested by the University offer for the trees in the back 40 to be uprooted and temporarily relocated (for those whose size allow). This would result in great stress to the trees, from which they could take years to recover. With alternative options for a staging area nearby, the prioritization of slightly increased ease of access during construction over the health of the farm is a key point of concern among community members.

At a town hall held the last Wednesday of March concerning the future of the Urban Farm, the Dean of the College of Design, Adrian Parr, suggested relocating the Urban Farm entirely. Audience members responded with discomfort to such a compromise, emphasizing the work that took place over decades to build the healthy, enriched soil that is the basis for life on the farm.

As one attendee noted, the University’s ‘incorporation’ of student feedback at the back end of the decision feels disingenuous. The impacts on the Urban Farm were known from the beginning of the planning process, as well as the significance of the Urban Farm to the community. Only now, post-decision, are students given space to voice their concerns.

On April 6th the ASUO (Associated Students of the University of Oregon) held a meeting that included the unanimous passing of a resolution stating the body’s “opposition to any future development of the Knight Campus that jeopardizes the Urban Farm’s ability to continue its current operations as usual, in its current location”, as well as demanding transparency and the inclusion of students and relevant faculty in conversations concerning the future of the farm. The body pointed out that student turnout for the meeting was the largest they’ve seen for an ASUO senate hearing.

Decisions around the specific impacts on the farm are still developing, with the Landscape Architecture department and the Campus Planning Committee in talks to figure out the degree to which mitigating measures will be taken.

Community pressure will be the most important factor in determining the future of the farm. To find information on how you can get involved with Save the Urban Farm, they can be found on Instagram @savetheurbanfarm or at their website www.savetheurbanfarm.com.

Notes


  1. Harper Keeler, _Considering the Urban Farm Program and the Role of Place-Based Experiential Education in the Pedagogy of Landscape Architecture _(2011) ↩︎

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