Sophomore uses Green Fund to revamp organic student farm, donates harvest

Monday, August 7, 2017
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Tucked between the Law and Veterinary Science colleges on East Campus is a small agriculture production with an impressive harvest this year. A row of pole beans climb up the sweet corn stalks like a trellis next to them, and the pole beans replenish nitrogen in the soil that zucchini plants intake. These small-scale farming techniques create complementary clusters of produce that have made the summer’s harvests so successful.

Bugeater farms was founded two years ago as the student-lead farm that used organic practices and student volunteers for its upkeep each summer. Last fall, then-Freshman Agronomy major Nash Leef was recruited to help out with the final harvest of the farm’s founder.

“Last August, the original caretaker of the farm came to a Sustain UNL meeting and talked about the opportunity to come help harvest,” Leef said. “I came out with six other people and did some work that day, and I kept going back after that.”

Despite having little experience with farming, he said he fell in love with the project when he saw the potential he had to improve the variety of the small plot of land.

“I really felt a connection to this place immediately,” Leef said. “I came out here and saw that such a wonderful resource was really being neglected, so I just started pulling up weeds the first night after everyone else had gone home. Over the winter I read five books on gardening and advanced farming practices that you can use on less than ¼ acre and I just really focused on techniques.”

At this point in the off-season, Leef was in the process of applying for a Green Fund grant, which would match his time and effort with monetary support to establish the organic farm as a long term project on campus. After months of work, he received a grant of $4,263 to fund the farm, and Leef hit the season running in the spring. He purchased a small stock of seeds to add to the seed bank already present in the ground, and constructed ten-100ft 2 raised garden beds to establish intercropping, which Leef described as “utilizing relationships between plants to help them benefit and grow better.”

Intercropping balances the nutrients among different plants which is what allows Bugeater farms to be an organic operation with no new chemical inputs. Leef established a compost pile this year to start repurposing these nutrients. Another technique used is companion planting, which is a mechanism for pest control when one plant has a fragrance or feature that repels pests from another. These techniques contribute to the long-term fertility of the garden.

“We have to be preventative, because we don’t have access to pesticides and fungicides, so you really have to bite everything in the butt before it comes at you,” Leef said. “You really want to improve the overall health of your garden - you want it to be an ecosystem. It’s about putting back into the soil and enriching the natural ecosystem that exists, and using that to benefit your plants and produce food for people in the process.”

These inputs are paying off as Bugeater farms has harvested over 550 lbs of produce already this summer. They will continue to donate each day’s harvest to the People’s City Mission, where Lincoln residents who may not otherwise afford it will have access to fresh produce every day.

Leef plans to manage Bugeater farms throughout his undergraduate program and he has multiple goals for the next three years. He is interested in establishing a sale program for the farm to generate revenue back into the operation, and he plans to establish a pollinator garden with perennial plants and native grasses next year to attract insects that improve the ecosystem.

“There was research out of Sweden that said a pollinator garden that is even 10x10 meters increases the bee population for a surrounding three miles,” Leef said. “So in an urban area, a small pollinator garden can do a lot. It doesn’t take that much to make a difference”