With blustery breezes billowing over the Diag, pumpkin spice odors wafting out of local coffee shops and conversations turning to Halloween costumes, the fall season has officially begun at the University of Michigan. In celebration, the U-M Sustainable Food Program and the Campus Farm hosted the 9th annual Harvest Festival Sunday afternoon at the Campus Farm and Matthaei Botanical Gardens. 

The Harvest Festival is a popular autumnal University tradition open to the entire Ann Arbor community. Attendees could participate in tours of the Campus Farm, make art projects and join educational sessions about food sustainability.

The Harvest Festival is also the only day during the academic year that the University provides transportation from the Central Campus Transit Center to the Campus Farm, making the event more accessible to students who do not live near the farm. The Campus Farm was founded in 2012 and is almost entirely student-operated.

Emily Freeland, UMSFP event manager and School of Education graduate student, was one of the main organizers of this year’s event. Freeland said the Harvest Festival allows members of the community to see the new projects student volunteers develop on the Campus Farm every year. This year, apple trees were planted.

“Harvest Fest is really to showcase the progress of the Campus Farm,” Freeland said. “It is really just a celebration of fall and the harvest season and … it’s a great opportunity for the community to come out and see what students have been working on at the farm.”

Morgan Anderson, LSA senior and UMSFP co-president, also organized this year’s Harvest Festival. Anderson told The Michigan Daily this was the first year UMSFP has planned the event in collaboration with the Campus Farm staff, though the festival has always been held at their farms. Having planned last year’s virtual Harvest Festival panel and worked at the 2019 in-person event — which had low attendance due to rain — Anderson said this year’s event felt particularly lively.

Anderson said Sunday’s event featured the largest array of activities of any Harvest Festival yet. There were three staff-led tours of the campus farm and three plant identification walks, during which participants could explore the flower gardens and step into the farm’s greenhouses to sample tomatoes fresh off the vine. While different local bands played a variety of live music, attendees screen-printed a “Harvest Festival 2021” design onto tote bags, played yard games and pressed live flowers to take home.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of open house style … we want people to feel free to explore.”

In search of an outdoor activity to enjoy in the crisp autumn air, Engineering junior Raj Koorapaty said he chose to attend the Harvest Festival for the first time with his friends. Koorapaty told The Daily he especially enjoyed going on a farm tour and trying out different activities, such as a farm scavenger hunt and sustainability trivia.

“I didn’t even know we had a farm through Michigan,” Koorapaty said. “I like to go outdoors more especially after being inside for a long time.”

Similar to Festifall, Harvest Festival highlights student and community organizations at individual tables — but all participating organizations are centered around sustainability. LSA senior Liz Boman, is the finance and operations coordinator for the Student Sustainability Coalition, a student organization consisting of both graduates and undergraduates working to connect students with campus projects and organizations that focus on various aspects of sustainability.

Boman attended Sunday’s event to represent SSC. Boman said attending the Harvest Festival for the first time has been a great opportunity for SSC to connect with students who are passionate about the environment and food justice. 

“We’re here at Harvest Fest just to join the other sustainability student orgs on campus,” Boman said. “We try to create a cohesive body for student sustainability on campus.”

Michigan Dining also had a table at the festival to speak with students about their commitment to compostable products and locally sourced produce — including fresh food from the Campus Farm. In 2019, the Campus Farm distributed $100,000 worth of fresh produce to dining halls across campus.

Attendees could also sample different salads made exclusively from student-grown produce at the farm. MDining chef Brian Barker prepared samples of one salad with braised greens, couscous and balsamic and another with tomatoes and walnuts. Barker emphasized the importance of serving fresh produce grown on campus.

“It just makes a huge difference when the food is so fresh that we’re getting it here (at the Campus Farm) and it’s going back out to be served three days after it’s picked,” Barker said.

For students who do not have a meal plan, the People’s Food Co-op in Kerrytown provides another option for sustainable food. PFC Marketing Director Ken Davis represented the business at the Harvest Festival and told The Daily it was the store’s first time attending. 

LSA junior Aly Latherow attended the event and said she had a great time sampling the farm-fresh salads and exploring the farm with friends. She said attending the Harvest Festival has made her excited to take advantage of other outdoor events during the rest of the fall season. 

“The weather’s still getting colder, but it’s not freezing yet, so it’s the best time of the year,” Latherow said.

Daily Staff Reporters Roni Kane and Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at ronikane@umich.edu and kluckoff@umich.edu.