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N4T Investigators: Selling the Farm?

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Land developers have told leaders at the University of Arizona that its Campus Farm property is worth a lot of money. If the university were to sell the farm it could use the cash to make up for its huge budget deficit.

"There'll be a flock of big black swallows that will get spooked," Roger Rosecrans, a Campus Farm neighbor said. "They'll rise up in this huge cloud and they'll zig to the right and they'll zig to the left and then woosh... they'll all land again."

Watching wildlife has been a daily occurrence for Rosecrans who's lived across the farm since the 1960s. He said there's nowhere else he'd rather be but if the university were to sell the farm to make ends meet then he'd probably have to move.

Bonnie Poulos, a Campus Farm neighbor said rumors of a sale also circulated in the 1980s. She has been just as determined to keep the farm now as she was then.

"What we want to see it that there is an impartial honest appraisal of what the property is worth to a developer for sale and what the property is worth to the university," Poulos said.

The university has said it anticipates a $250 million dollar loss through the end of the Fiscal Year 2021 after being hit hard financially by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

During a town hall on May 7,2020 University of Arizona President, Robert Robbins mentioned that among other university properties, Campus Farm could be put up for sale in an effort to make up for lost revenue.

"It's a very short-sighted, short-term revenue source and we lose something that will never be replaced," Poulos said.

In a statement to the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the University of Arizona said:

"The University of Arizona continues to own and operate its Campus Agricultural Center in north Tucson. Although the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University are significant, no decision regarding this property has been made. As we assess the consequences of the ongoing crisis for the University, we also will continue to explore ways to protect assets such as the Center while ensuring we continue to fulfill our mission to educate the next generation and to support Arizona as its land-grant University. "

Neighbors said selling the farm would have a domino effect that would reach far beyond Tucson.

"There's nothing else like it anywhere else in the world. It's a calling card," Rosecrans said.

Rosecrans said farmers from around the world send their kids to learn about agriculture at UofA because of the Campus Farm.

The university's College of Veterinary Medicine has also been using the farmland. The program has been going through an accreditation process that is expected to conclude in 2023. Its students depend on the farm for their clinical training.

Poulos said she wants the university to assess how much it would cost to relocate such programs that depend on the farm and weigh that against the profit that could be made from selling it.

"The relocations would be far greater than 2-and-a-half miles from the main campus," Poulos said.

At least 11 departments at the university rely on the farmland for fieldwork. If the far were to be sold, 70 different research labs and greenhouses could be displaced.

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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