New era: MUSC Urban Farm to undergo metamorphosis

August 02, 2023
People gather outside in a beautiful garden with cafe lights overhead.
Employees and visitors gather at the MUSC Urban Farm to celebrate and learn about future plans for the Farm. Photos by Sarah Pack

Walking around MUSC’s sprawling campus, you will come upon a plot of ground that for the past 12 years has not only brought an abundance of healthy fresh produce to the community, it has also served as a space that inspires joy, fellowship, science and healing.


As plants and living things undergo their own natural development, the MUSC Urban Farm will undergo a metamorphosis of its own. Starting this fall, the farm will no longer exist as is in its busy interactive space but, instead, will evolve into newly created pocket urban farms, or planting areas, located around different areas of campus to continue to provide herbs and vegetables to the community. The plan was announced formally at the MUSC Urban Farm farewell event on July 18.


Susan Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Office of Health Promotion; Robin Smith, MUSC Grounds manager; and the Urban Farm team planned the event to gather volunteers and campus and community supporters for the celebration event and share plans for the relocation. 

A blonde woman in a floral dress and sandals speaks using a handheld microphone. 
Dr. Susan Johnson, Office of Health Promotions manager, addresses a crowd at the Drug Discovery Building lobby. She and members of the Urban Farm team shared details about the next phase of the Farm with the creation of planned pocket farms around campus.

“This gathering is not a farewell – it’s a farewell to Chapter 1 of the Urban Farm as we see it today,” said Johnson. “Even though we’re very sad that we must let go of this beautiful space on campus that we’re all so proud of, it will make way for an amazing College of Medicine building that will help educate and prepare our future health care providers for the years to come. We will reinvent the Urban Farm, and it will eventually be as magnificent as it is today.”

Bill Eubanks was among dozens of people attending the mid-July event. Eubanks, a landscape architect, was chief designer of the Urban Farm back in 2011. According to Eubanks, the campus was just completing the final phase of the Clyburn Education Center and Drug Discovery and Bioengineering Building construction when he was asked to redesign the lawn space behind the complex in the old G-lot parking area. Former MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., wanted a more creative use of the space. Eubanks submitted the design for the ½-acre area and immediately won approval.


“All of us knew the Urban Farm project was designed to be a temporary project. We designed it using untreated wood, etc. We didn’t think it would last as long as it has. The project got ‘legs,’ quickly grew and evolved to its popularity today – It’s been so much fun to watch,” said Eubanks.


Smith and her Grounds team will be responsible for creating the planned pocket farms around campus until a new location for the Urban Farm has been confirmed. The pocket urban farm project was approved by MUSC leadership earlier this spring. 


Woman holding a baby speaks to a seated group inside a building.  
Former Urban Farm manager Carmen Kenton shares memories and personal insights of the Farm. The Urban Farm was established in 2011 and has grown in popularity as an urban community garden.

“I love my job and what I do, especially with the Urban Farm. Although I will miss the farm itself, I’m also excited about our plans for the future. These smaller pocket farms around campus will really help bring the farm patient-focused while also still including MUSC staff and visitors. We are focusing more on horticulture therapy while growing the familiar Urban Farm crops that everyone loves,” Smith said.

The pocket farm locations are planned in multiple areas: the Colbert Education Center and Library (west side facing the Charleston Medical District Greenway), Institute of Psychiatry, MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, Ashley River Tower and University Hospital. The design will include landscaping, hardscaping, tree installation, irrigation, electricity hook ups, shade structures and furnishings for sitting areas in each location.


Five women wearing dresses stand outside in front of a tree. A brick building is behind the tree. 
The MUSC Urban Farm team includes, from left, Kaitlin Fitzgerald, Laura Nance, Noni Langford, Dr. Susan Johnson and Robin Smith.

The Colbert area pocket farm will be the first to be installed, according to Smith. It will feature 10 2-foot-by-8 foot planters for herbs and vegetables, two large sitting areas, a pergola with shade, tables and chairs transferred from the Urban Farm plus other features. Nearby will be the Porcher Medicinal Garden, which is being rebuilt and replanted to parallel the pocket farm project. This garden will feature historic medicinal plants used during the Civil War that are still used today. Both the Porcher Garden and Colbert area pocket farm will offer a chance for volunteers to work in either location.


The observation beehive will also relocate to the south side of the MUSC Wellness Center off of Bee Street, a fitting new home. According to Smith, the new space provides an opportunity to create a small wildflower field to promote pollination while maintaining MUSC’s Bee Campus USA Certification. 


In addition to producing crops, the farm will continue to sponsor work and learn events; special opportunities to learn in the new spaces; development of a food distribution system, collaborating with the Office of Health Promotion, to expand on community food distribution partnerships with nonprofit organizations in the Tricounty area; as well as food pharmacy programs. 


Former manager, Carmen Kenton, who worked at the farm since its inception, was on hand for the special day. “When I was hired on, I got to see how people had grown to love the Urban Farm – it brought out the best in people, it created friendships and new relationships. It was also a place for therapy and healing. That’s what made the farm what it is today – the people, the amazing staff and volunteers that have supported it for many years.

Yellow flowers with black centers rise against a background of people gathered for a celebration. 
The Urban Farm's flowers add a spark of color to campus along Bee Street.

"In life, we look at things in a linear way – a beginning, middle and end. In horticulture therapy, I learned that things are cyclical and can be looked at as a metamorphosis. Today, I’m excited to hear about the Urban Farm’s metamorphosis. We’re currently in the cocoon stage, but soon a beautiful butterfly will emerge that will truly be bigger and better,” she said.


The MUSC Urban Farm’s future plans will be communicated through the MUSC Office of Health Promotion’s e-newsletter as well as on Instagram, Facebook and Yammer @MUSCURBANFARM.

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