A Conversation with Urban Agriculture Coordinator Kevin Erickson
Written by: Alex Schmidt '16
Learn how he’s grown the university’s Urban Agriculture Program from the ground up
Kevin Erickson starts his day by biking to work at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Environmental Sustainability (SES). His mornings are busy as he collaborates with Rogers Park community partners about sustainable agriculture ideas or assists with student projects in Loyola’s Ecodome. In the afternoon, he’ll oversee production of each of Loyola’s four garden sites on campus. And, during the summer he’s even more rushed as he helps his students harvest and sell the produce grown on the four garden sites he oversees at Loyola’s very own farmers market. On his way out, he’ll check on the Aquaponics system he helped create where fish waste is converted into nutrient-rich food, and grab any unsold produce for dinner.
The growth of the Loyola’s Urban Agriculture Program
“There was a lot of opportunity coming to something new, and building a program from the ground up.” Since IES opened in 2013 (changed to SES in 2020), Erickson has overseen the Urban Agriculture Program as it has more than doubled the growing space of Winthrop Garden, expanded the Mertz and Quinlan rooftop gardens, established two bee colonies and implemented an Aquaponics systems for growing produce. Many of these projects have been accomplished with the help of students. In 2014, there were 400 Urban Agriculture Program volunteers, which meant Erickson and his team of interns organized a number of weekend and evening volunteer activities.
Erickson’s favorite part about his job is working with students. “My philosophy is to always engage the individual, find what interests them and connect that to what we are doing. They make me better at my job, and they make it fun to be at work.”
Loyola Senior and recipient of the President’s Medallion, Magdalena Nykaza, has found her niche with Erickson and the Urban Agriculture Program. She manages several of Loyola’s gardens on campus, helps with the Loyola Farmers Market and is the co-president of the urban agriculture student organization called Growers’ Guild.
“The Urban Agriculture Program gives students an opportunity to be part of the entire process of operations, including crop planning, maintaining the gardens and greenhouse, harvesting and selling the produce,” Nykaza said. “I’ve learned so much from Kevin. He emphasized things like attitude, flexibility and team work—things that apply to life beyond urban agriculture.”
The Loyola Ecodome has also allowed the Urban Agriculture Program to be successful. “In addition to different student projects, a lot of the seasonal plants get started in the green house and so do the farmers market plants.” Currently the Ecodome provides basil to Felice’s Pizza three times a week. In 2014, the Lakeshore Gardens and the Ecodome produced 1,700 pounds of produce. Erickson is determined to increase production in years to come. “We may not see urban agriculture, it may be hidden from us in really small spaces or even private property,” he said, “but, we’re finding more and more that it is very much present and making a big impact.”
Under Erickson’s guidance, the Urban Agriculture Program has progressed quickly, but Erickson still has bigger goals for the program. He’d like to increase food production and educate the community. “My vision for the future would be more production from our urban spaces, thus, increasing our ability to put healthy food into our community,” he said.
To learn more about Loyola’s Urban Agriculture Program, go here. Also, don’t forget to purchase the program’s fresh produce from Loyola’s Farmers Market, beginning June 6, 2016 and running through October 17, 2016.