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April 1, 2018

Open Petal Farm serves as a learning lab for JCCC’s Sustainable Agriculture students so they can learn the ins and outs of growing local, fresh produce.

Johnson County Community College puts tomorrow within reach – a goal that wouldn’t be possible without a functional and extensive campus. Sprawled across 234 acres of land, JCCC is home to 20 buildings (and counting!), athletic facilities and green spaces. But that’s not all.

Discover Open Petal Farm

Located in the northwest corner of JCCC’s campus, you can find Open Petal Farm – an area committed to creating hands-on educational experiences for students while also providing locally grown, chemical-free produce to the College and community. The farm was launched in 2008 at Kansas State University’s Extension office and received a dedicated space on the JCCC campus in 2010. 

On the 2.5 acres of land that is Open Petal Farm, there are over 80 varieties of more than 30 different crops. Here’s just a taste of what grows on campus:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Turnips
  • Herbs
  • Raspberries
  • Hops
  • Squash
  • Blueberries

Michael Rea, Sustainability project manager, said, “The unique thing about a campus farm is you have the opportunity to eat food that is so fresh you gain a taste for vegetables and fruits that’s different from what you can buy in the store.”

But the benefits of Open Petal Farm don’t stop at the fresh food. Students from a variety of disciplines use the farm to cultivate their skills.

Enriching student experiences  

Open Petal Farm serves as a learning space for students taking part in JCCC’s Sustainable Agriculture program – a curriculum directed by Stu Shafer, professor of Sustainable Agriculture.

“The Sustainable Ag program has evolved from a rather loose collaboration of several programs that provided an entrepreneurship certificate to a vital and growing hub for developing and practicing the theories and skills of ecological food production,” Shafer said. “At the core of the program is our practicum course sequence, in which Open Petal Farm serves as a living lab for innovation and practical learning.”

JCCC student and farm-to-table intern Erin Kruse echoed Shafer’s thoughts. “The Sustainable Agriculture program is a well-rounded curriculum that covers multiple facets of sustainable ag. In addition to taking cooking classes and food policy classes, we traveled around Kansas City and the region to learn how producers and chefs deal with local food resources. Then we were able to use the farm to put our learnings into practice.”

Not just Sustainable Agriculture students gain value from Open Petal Farm. Rea said, “There are culinary classes that cross over into sustainable agriculture and vice versa. There is even a class dedicated to learning about local foods.” Additionally, the Native American Studies program has a dedicated plot on the farm grounds.

Farm-fresh food

According to Kruse, the farm has many benefits:

  • It creates an alternative to purchasing food from national distributors.
  • At the campus level, the farm promotes healthy living to JCCC students.
  • At a community level, the farm is good for the soil and as well as the overall health of community members.

Not to mention there are several opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to snack on the farm-fresh food. As a farm-to-table intern, Kruse serves as a liaison between the farm and Dining Services, and works with JCCC chefs so food can be prepared for the campus community. And during the summer, produce from the farm is frequently on sale at JCCC’s Pastry Shop.

Farm enthusiasts can also take part in “You Pick.” Visitors can go to the farm, ask questions about sustainable agriculture and pick their own farm-fresh food. The “You Pick” events were started by Rick Mareske, Campus Farm/Outreach Manager. In his role, Mareske significantly contributes to the success of the farm by managing day-to-day activities, coordinating with students to sell the produce and much more.

Get involved in sustainable agriculture

Whether you are looking to earn a certificate in Sustainable Agriculture or want to learn more about Open Petal Farm, we invite you to get involved today.