Down on the Campus Farm

Sindu Manoharan feeds a sheep on the Campus Farm.

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

June 16, 2014

On March 6, 1856, the Maryland General Assembly chartered the Maryland Agricultural College, an institution now known as the University of Maryland. Between then and now, the University and campus have seen copious additions and changes, but the school still retains part of its Agricultural College roots. Within the University’s College Park campus, nestled between dormitories, sports arenas, and classroom buildings lies a unique piece of property, the campus farm. While sheared down to several acres of land by other campus projects, the campus farm is
 still a vital part of the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences. Now, a new project is underway to revitalize this gem and give it the attention it needs and deserves as an important part of University of Maryland’s history and future.

The campus farm as it stands today is a relatively small remnant of what used to be a large farm. The original Maryland Agricultural College campus consisted 
of 420 acres given by Charles Calvert, and was supported and supplemented by 
the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. The act provided federal support for state colleges to teach agriculture, mechanical arts, and military tactics. In 1937, the campus livestock facilities were constructed via the Depression era Works Progress Administration Program. The last remaining buildings of the current campus farm were built during that time. Over several decades, the University has shaved down the campus farm acreage for different projects, the most recent being the Comcast Center. Today, the campus farm sits on approximately 4.5 acres of land.

Although at one time it included a working dairy farm, the campus farm is now used strictly for teaching. The location is a nice bonus for pre-veterinary students in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, many of whom come from suburban areas and have little experience with large animals. Students don’t need to go off-campus to get hands-on experience with these animals. Year-round the campus farm houses horses, sheep, and two ever-popular, ever-bizarre fistulated cows that help teach about nutrition. The fistulated cows, which are a source of wonderment, have a porthole in their stomach allowing students to reach in, feel and observe the digestive system, and even pull out partially digested food to analyze in the lab.

Students in ANSC235, Small Ruminant Parturition, also known as Lamb Watch, get the opportunity to observe and take care of expectant sheep while awaiting the
birth of their lambs to understand topics like anatomy and reproduction. Similarly, Foal Watch is coming soon. Seasonally, there is also a constantly revolving cast of animal characters, including steers, heifers, chickens, and pigs. They are on the farm on an as-needed basis for a class, then, go back to the off-campus research farms or other farms where they normally reside.

Surprisingly, for such a useful piece of UMD property, the campus farm has not seen a major renovation in at least 30 years. Brian Magness, Director of Development for the College, hopes to change that. He points out, “University of Maryland is one of the few land-grant universities that has a farm on campus. Many are located off-campus. It’s a very unique advantage to have our farm directly across the street from our department building.”

The goal of the Campus Farm Project is to create an ideal teaching lab for the next 20 years. That includes a better layout. “The campus farm 
is 4.5 acres, but only about 1.6 acres 
of it is pasture,” explains Farm Manager, Crystal Caldwell. Caldwell keeps busy year-round managing the entire campus farm and its budget, buying, selling, and feeding animals, loading manure, hiring and managing the farm crew, giving farm tours, and countless other tasks. With a small amount of space on the farm, an effective layout
is important. Caldwell is excited about the new project’s potential. “The whole idea is to have buildings centrally located and the land radiating from that,” says Caldwell about the project plans. “That’s how it used to be, but with cut-ting back on the land, what was once considered an insignificant amount of land between centrally located buildings, is now the main farm. The facilities are sufficient, but not efficient. We want to be able to teach students the latest in farming.”

In addition to a new layout, the farm may see a slew of new, innovative technologies to efficiently use its resources. “We’re looking into a lot of sustainable technologies including solar panels, green roofs, green walls, water harvesting (a system to collect and reuse rain water), and a bio digester (a system that uses methane gas produced by manure to generate power),” Magness illustrates. He foresees the innovations that stem from the Campus Farm Project making a global impact. “Dr. Stephanie Lansing, a professor in the Environmental Science and Technology Department, is developing the bio digester technology, doing research across the globe, partnering with the USDA, and creating something that can help the planet. We can have that technology on our campus and teach about it. That’s really exciting.”

Although the campus farm is
 alive and kicking, the Campus Farm Project has the potential to make it a significant draw for potential students in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, as well as tourists. Even for those students who are not part of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the project is an opportunity to give UMD a fresh look.

We hope the renovation will also give us a nice view, maybe give us more green space on campus, and help the college become more visible and more compelling. Imagine seeing the new farm when walking back from a basketball game!” says Magness, who plans to have an architect assess the farm and begin developing the project’s master plan by the end of the summer.