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Urban Farm supporters fear encroachment from UO Knight Campus

A young man and woman stand under a wooden entryway. Behind them is a garden called the Urban Farm. A sign is pinned on the post to their left that says "Save the Urban Farm, May 6"
Rachael McDonald
UO Master's student Kaleb Beavers and UO senior Grace Youngblood at the west entrance to the Urban Farm in Eugene.

For nearly half a century, the Urban Farm has provided University of Oregon students an interactive classroom that gives them hands-on experience planting and raising vegetables and fruit. But, plans for campus development may destroy part of the beloved garden and orchard.

Note: since publication of this story, the University of Oregon clarified that it expects the heritage orchard will remain intact. More information at their FAQ page

UO senior Grace Youngblood walked me through her “classroom” - a small orchard of fruit trees on the eastern portion of the Urban Farm.

“That one over there is a cherry,” she said. “And then we do have a couple of pears sprinkled in. And then, as we continue to walk, up to the left, those are going to be plums.”

This is what students call the “back 40”. Early next year, it might be an industrial site. The UO plans to use this as a staging area for construction of a 175,000 square-foot multi-story building for phase 2 of the Phil and Penny Knight campus for Accelerating Scientific impact. Masters student Kaleb Beavers said that would decimate the trees here.

“So that is going to potentially disrupt 35 orchard trees that are all about 25 years old, about a dozen Port Orford Cedar Trees that are like 60 years old,” he said. “And then, about 40% of our plantable garden beds.”

The area is also home to two heritage walnut trees that Youngblood said predate the University. She said this part of the farm was established in the 1990s, so the loss of all that planting soil is no small thing

“So it’s been about 30 years of cultivating that soil,” she said. “And I think that’s something that we’re trying to get across is that it’s not dirt. It’s soil. It’s topsoil. And that is a precious and depleting commodity. That we can’t continue to afford to lose.”

The Urban Farm has been on the north end of the UO campus for 46 years. The class is part of the Landscape Architecture department. It fills up quickly each term.

There’s a reason that this is maybe the most popular class at the University of Oregon,” said Harper Keeler, Director of the Urban Farm.

“It’s about food systems and natural systems and how learning about them can help us battle global climate change and other environmental challenges that we all are facing,” he said

Keeler said during construction next year, it will be a challenge to conduct class here. In the latest iteration of plans, the project would displace about 45 percent of the farm’s area.

“We’re kind of landlocked here in the amount of space we have. And the amount of space determines how many students we can accommodate,” Keeler said. “I think everyone is excited about the Knight campus to come and we’re hoping that we can look at ways to do the construction with the least amount of displacement as possible.”

This map shows where phase 2 of the Knight Campus is planned to go just to the east of the Urban Farm. The area called the back 40 is not included in the Urban Farm Outdoor Classroom. It's called a future development area.
University of Oregon
This map shows where phase 2 of the Knight Campus is planned to go just to the east of the Urban Farm.

The University states that it is working to minimize and mitigate the impacts on the Urban Farm and surrounding areas and to preserve as many trees as possible. Supporters hope the Knight campus plans can be amended so the space is preserved. The UO Student Senate recently passed a resolution in support of the Urban Farm.

Grace Youngblood created a web page called Save the Urban Farmto share information and gather testimonials from community members, alumni, and students about what the program has meant to them.

“So, there’s people from all walks of life, all stages of life that feel for this place and have had these experiences in the past and the urban farm has actually changed the trajectory of what they want to do with their life, which is something I understand,” she said.

Youngblood said that’s what happened to her.

Young woman smiles as she holds up an asparagus spear.
Rachael McDonald
Grace Youngblood says learning how asparagus grows was part of what made her decide to major in landscape architecture at the UO. She says this asparagus grove was first planted in the 1990s.

“I wanted to show you this asparagus grove,” she said “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the way asparagus grows but I think that this was one of my, the first way that I connected really intensely with this space was seeing asparagus pop out of the ground. Because, I’ve eaten asparagus my whole life, and I didn’t know how it grew until I was 19!”

On Friday, May 6th at 5:30 p.m., supporters will hold a rally at the farm to raise community awareness. Organizers hope UO administrators listen and find a way to grow their campus but not at the expense of this treasured facility.

Copyright 2022 KLCC.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.