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Denae Friedheim is the interim director and farm manager at the Student Organic Farm at Michigan State University.

Denae majored in biology and sociology, yet ended up running the show at the Student Organic Farm. “I came to food through the lens of public health. When I was in college, I was actually pre-med and I was very interested in medicine. I think food has come to be synonymous with medicine to me, over the last several years.”

Friedheim believes her work on the Student Organic Farm helps people. “We have a lot of students who work here in different capacities. Some come to us as volunteers, other undergraduates work as part of our farm crew and it’s their paid job while they’re in college. And then we have a lot of customers. We have several hundred people who come to our farm each week and we get to interact with them. We get to give people tours out here and tell them about where their food comes from, and it’s very fulfilling.”

What exactly is the purpose of the Student Organic Farm? Denae mentions two things. “A lot of people think our focus here is growing food organically and becoming experts in that, and that’s true in some respects. We definitely want to develop standards of practice and to teach beginning farmers and existing farmers to learn with them the best ways to grow food on this scale and the best ways to grow food year-round. That’s really our specialty.”

According to Friedheim, it is all the above and much, much more. “But it’s even more than that. What the Student Organic Farm has grown to become—it’s a haven for people to come and experience things that they can’t learn in the classroom. What we have really evolved into is a learning lab—not just for people who are interested in farming, not just for people who are interested in something affiliated with farming, like horticulture, but for all students.”

What does Denae Friedheim love best about MSU? “I like that MSU is really finding its growth edges with regards to cross-disciplinary engagement. We’re starting to see a lot of departments working together on different projects, and that makes for a creative space where people can really innovate. That’s where we see true progress, when people from different specializations come together surrounding one problem. That’s how we start to deal with wicked problems.”

Ehmpressions of MSU is a podcast devoted to all things Michigan State University produced by Kraig Ehm.

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