COMMENTARY

Student farm at the University of Minnesota

By Jared Ashling

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Posted March 31, 2005: Students at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus participating in the student group What’s Up in Sustainable Agriculture (WUSA) have been working to create the school’s first student-run campus farm. This student-supported initiative started last summer with a trial-run student vegetable production garden, in which eight students participated in a bimonthly summer seminar series discussing various types of organic and sustainable gardening techniques such as composting, soil management, pest management and preservation of produce.

During the past fall semester, students held planning-and-brainstorming meetings to come up with a solid mission and vision for the 1 acre of on-campus land that would become the permanent student farm plot beginning summer 2005. Students are interested in combining research, education and outreach while experimenting with and learning about perennial woody plants and grasses, companion planting, soil management, and many other topics. The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (www.misa.umn.edu) provided the students with the initial $200 needed for the first year land lease. As winter approached, the field was planted with a cover crop of rye. While the rye is now dormant under the January snow, the planning process continues.

Students reached out to several professors for help in the planning process, resulting in the creation of the Student Sustainable Farm Planning course. The course—which was also formed from student initiative and co-taught by professors Albert Markhart, Ph.D. (Department of Horticulture) and Paul Porter, Ph.D. (Dept. of Agronomy) —uses the text Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses. This publication was created by a planning team in 1996 for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. As students develop a business plan for their student farm, they are learning the steps to creating a sustainable farm or sustainable-related business. The publication helps students look at values, goals, and strategic planning.

The location of the student’s 1 acre is significant; it sits on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. It is adjacent to the Gibbs Farm museum, (www.rchs.com), which has a traditional Dakotah garden with native plantings and pioneer gardens with heritage seeds, along with a Dakotah Medicine Teaching Garden. Across the street from the farm site is the future site of the Bell Museum of Natural History (www.bellmuseum.org). The student farm will serve as an accessible and informative transition to the 200 acres of additional agricultural research land, mostly dominated by corn and soybean research.

The University of Minnesota Twin cities campus consists of two campuses, referred to as the Minneapolis Campus and the St. Paul Campus. The St. Paul campus is the “farm campus.” Like its neighboring Minneapolis campus, it is imbedded in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, with a population of 2.7 million (April 2002 census).

 

Editor’s note: Want to add your farm to our Student Farm Directory? Follow the format of the farms listed on their now, and send your information to senior writer Laura Sayre at laura.sayre@rodaleinst.org.