SFSI Affiliate Spotlight: Jeremy Moghtader

Jeremy Moghtader | Affiliate Spotlight

Date: May 11, 2021

Jeremy’s warm spirit and deep knowledge of agroecological growing practices have inspired and drawn students to the University of Michigan Campus Farm. When this father of two is not offering up pearls of wisdom, you can find him backpacking around Lake Michigan and cooking up traditional Iranian dishes like ghormeh sabzi, his favorite. 

What is a “typical” day as the Campus Farm Program Manager?

Photo by Leisa Thompson

My day is a really strong blend of applied practice and more ‘heady’ planning,  developing DEI strategic plans, collaborating with University and Matthaei Botanical Gardens teams, teaching, and mentorship. I think that blend is what makes my job so great. Even though sometimes those things may pull me in different directions, the ability to move from writing a grant to showing a student how to plant a tomato plant is a very unique and pleasant blend of practice and theory. 

What were some experiences that brought you to food systems work and your current role? 

I grew up spending a lot of time at my grandparents farm, but I was not cognitively making that connection [with food systems]. It was just part of my life, probably something that subconciously drew me to farming and all its wonders. Then, when I was in undergrad I studied economics and ecology. Food systems was this marriage of economics (how we structure systems for allocating resources and goods) and ecology was how our species’ interacted with the natural world. Food systems was the magic mix of the social side of us as beings and the ecological side in terms of where we get our sustenance. 

I came to this realization through a confluence of opportunities, which included taking John Vandermeer’s agroecology class in my final term as an undergrad. I then had the opportunity to work on several different organic farms and with organic educational programs, which led me back to Grad school to pursue an agroecology degree.

Photo by Leisa Thompson

Now I work at the UofM Campus Farm, where I have the opportunity to work with our amazing students to build a student managed farm that serves as this living learning laboratory in a really interdisciplinary way. I get to do that in collaboration with folks at SFSI and other faculty and staff across campus in a really supportive environment. We are engaging and working with students who get into so many different fields and careers, giving them leadership roles and hands-on food systems experience. Working here was an opportunity I could not pass up. 

Are there any books, movies, or panels you have been inspired by lately?

Maybe unsurprisingly, I’ve been consuming a bunch of information around race, justice, and decolonization. In that context, I think there’s a couple of things that have come up. I recently saw a panel that featured Dr. Sharon Stein from the University of British Columbia and her work on decolonization, which I found very interesting and powerful. I also read Kyle Whyte’s White Allies, Let’s be Honest About Decolonization article that he wrote for Yes magazine, which is just one of the many incredible things he has written. Leah Penniman’s Farming While Black is a critical piece, as is a at talk/workshop “Calling in the Calling Out Culture” by Loretta Ross that was hosted by Rackham DEI Certificate Program Lead Dr. Debora Willis.  All of this content has been moving my understanding forward of what it looks like to really try to work and be in spaces, where we’re changing some of the underlying dynamics of the [food] system that are so oppressive.

What is your strongest food memory?

I have this really clear memory of my first time I picked and ate a Hakurei turnip [at the MSU Organic Farm], which is a Japanese salad turnip. Forget everything you think you know about turnips. I think that’s part of why it’s so indelibly imprinted in my brain…it’s watery and crunchy and buttery. It’s somehow like eating a luscious peach. How a root vegetable, specifically a turnip, could evoke all of those sensations and make me think of eating a peach? My mind was blown. There’s also something about picking things out of the ground and eating them that way.

Maybe we should start growing them [at the Campus Farm]. The truth is, they haven’t been the perfect fit for our production system and sales to MDining. However, now that we’re going to be running the Farm Stand in collaboration with UM Sustainable Food Program from July – November once a week outside of UMMA on campus, it might be the perfect fit in terms of our capacity and that market to grow and sell exciting things like Hakurei turnips.

What are some projects at the Campus Farm that you are excited about? 

The students have been turning their focus to carbon neutrality and food justice. We set out to study our own carbon footprint to help with the goal of creating a carbon neutral Campus Farm. In that context, we’ve been looking at APV (agro-photovoltaics), where solar panels can be integrated with cropping systems. We have a SEAS master’s project doing some of that work, not just at the Campus Farm but on some partner  urban farms in southeast Michigan. We have also been focusing a lot on how to use our DEI work as a lens for innovation and since the pandemic started greatly increasing our work in the food access space, wanting to make sure that folks in our community have access to produce. We have been working more closely with Maize and Blue Cupboard Food Pantry on campus increasing the food we produce for them and co-creating some education and engagement videos with them.  We have also increased the food we provide to Food Gatherers, Farm at St. Joes and a few other programs that help provide food to those in need. 

What is one piece of advice you would give students interested in food systems?

Sometimes success looks different and takes different shapes than you initially plan…working in food systems is exciting and critical work, but not all the career paths are clear, linear or well-trodden. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in work you love, work that challenges you and those around you to do and be better.  In the end, I think that’s the only way forward for all of us.  

Ways to get involved:

  • Campus Farm Ecological and Organic Farming Practicum this fall, Wednesays from 2-5pm
  • Weekly Farm Workdays (email campusfarm@umich.edu for more details) 
  • Bring your class for a lab or class session (tour, taste, talk, discuss or work). We can focus on topics/activities that fit your course.
  • Collaborative Research Site for student and faculty (honors thesis, capstone and masters projects, masters and doctoral research, independent study, etc.)   
  • Internships, Farm Crew and Farm Manager Positions Available for undergraduate and graduate students (example manager positions include: Finance, Food Safety and Orders, DEI, and Student Engagement, Food Access and more) 
  • Check back here  for opportunities, workshops, and plant sales