The Urban Farm is a nature lover’s paradise – Oregon Daily Emerald


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On the opposite side of Franklin Boulevard from the University of Oregon sits the Urban Farm, a collective space for students to experience agriculture and admire nature that has been active for the past 46 years. Upon walking in, rows and rows of diverse crops such as corn and kale sprout blow from the wind. Trees are generously placed around the property and wooden benches sit underneath them to allow a tranquil, shaded area for guests to relax. The Urban Farm informs students on the importance of growing food and buying locally.Urban Farmer director Harper Keeler has maintained a community of students with an interest in sustainability and learning ancient customs of producing resources since his promotion to his current title in 2008. He said the complexity of the current food system is “horrific,” and causing “global climate change effects.” Keeler explains the program demonstrates how people can work together to solve global catastrophes such as food insecurity and wasting resources to distribute food across the country.“Ask the question: ‘Where does our food come from?’” Keeler said. “And then the human stories start to talk. It is obvious that food comes from 2000 miles away. There is little chance people know where their food comes from.”Industrial agriculture thrives on calling itself modern based on its maximized product efficiency methods, mechanization and scientifically engineered species of crops. Keeler disagrees with this idea because it's only 75 years old. The modern methods have proven to be disastrous from the existence of mass scale farms producing chemical and biological runoff that create toxic water systems. He believes food should be sourced from local farmers and grown organically.“There are many versions of something organic still grown in the industrial scale,” Keeler said. “Lots of people argue local is more important than organic. Local-organic is most likely the best because we are assured there are no pesticides or genetically modified seeds.”During Keeler’s childhood, he spent time in his grandfather's garden. He came from a long line of dairy farmers on his paternal side but did not pursue working with agriculture full time until he received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture at UO in 1995. Keeler became involved with the Urban Farm as an undergraduate and has continued to be a part of its team ever since. Keeler encourages students to question society’s harmful practices and discover food alternatives to have a lower environmental impact.“The best thing is to know your farmer,” Keeler said. “We’re blessed in Eugene with an unbelievable farmers market. It is the longest continually operated market on the west coast. We also have stores like Akiva and Sundance that source diverse food locally.”Keeler feels honored to be the director because he appreciates the attention and funding the university provides for him to sustain the project. The program is a part of the landscape architecture major but students from any department can register to take classes on the farm.His curriculum teaches students how to compost, maintain beehives and raise plants in flower beds. His current fall term enrollment reached its total of 130 students within a matter of days. Keeler wants everybody to acknowledge native foods from one's hometown and to care for nature during its seasonal cycles.“We live in the Willamette Valley where you can grow all year round with the best soil in the world,” Keeler said. “The Oregon trail stopped here for a reason and the reason was that you can grow your own food here.”Keeler intends to inspire students with or without experience to pick up a tool. He guides them to apply gardening to their daily lives and volunteer with organizations that encourage a healthy and honest relationship with food. He strives to make a positive influence on his students' wellbeing and self-sufficiency in producing food.“There are many students who never got dirty or picked up a shovel,” Keeler said. “They never had the opportunity to think about where their food comes from because that is the pace of our society. We have seen a paradigm shift in students saying this class has changed their mind.”

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