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U of M campus gardens

In gardens and farms across the U, students are learning about food, farming, and horticulture firsthand

For students interested in subjects like hor­ticulture, sustainable agriculture, farming, and environmental studies—or even those who just want to know more about where their food comes from—experiential education opportunities abound in the many gardens and farms that have sprung up across the University of Minnesota’s campuses over the last decade.

Most often run by students, these varying green spaces include rain gardens that retain storm water runoff, demonstration gardens of perennial and annu­al flowers, community garden collaborations between local residents and students, Native American gardens, and food-producing gardens and farms. Here’s a look at three of those student-run farms and gardens.

Connection with food

Located on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, Cornercopia is a 5.7-acre certified organic farm that got its start in 2004 after two horticulture students approached the U’s Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) about the possibility of having an organic garden on campus. They got their wish, and started out with a 20-foot by 30-foot plot, which grew to an acre by fall and has been growing ever since.

Student in the middle of a farm, wearing boots and a hat, holding a bunch of onions
Lorrie Bouley, ’15 B.S., harvests onions at the Cornercopia student farm.

The farm, which is a student program of both MISA and the Department of Horticultural Science, gives students the opportunity to learn how to plan, grow, and market food. Every season, student volunteers and interns produce more than 100 varieties of vegetables and fruits, which they sell at a campus farmers market and to local restaurants.

“Students are always saying they want more of a con­nection with their food,” says Courtney Tchida, student farm educational coordinator at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. “They want to know where it comes from and how to grow it, and they want a hands-on learning experience.”

Ali Schwier, a horticulture major who is interested in sustainable agriculture and holistic health, worked on the farm last year as part of an internship funded by the Theodora and Arnold Johnson Undergraduate Research Program. In addition to helping out with all aspects of food production, she also conducted research on cover crops to find out which ones bees prefer most. Schwier plans to use the data to help farmers choose pollinator-friendly options.

“Having that funding really opened doors for me because I was able to spend all my time on my project,” she says. “I found out where my skills and interests lie, and the experience solidified for me what I want to do.”

Sense of community

This spring marks the second season for the West Bank Community Garden, which is located between the Carlson School of Management and the Rarig Center. Environmental science major Louis Mielke was one of several students who presented a Living Laboratory proposal to the U’s Twin Cities Sustainability Com­mittee to create a place where students, faculty, and community members could garden together.

Last year, the 2,000-square-foot garden included a variety of native perennials and pollinator-friendly plants, as well as kale, tomatoes, and herbs. (Rabbits ate the lettuce, broccoli, and other crops; students hope to deter rodents by putting up a fence this year.) The goal is to create a garden that encourages education and exper­imentation while also fostering a sense of community.

“We want to help bridge the gap between campus cul­ture and the larger Cedar Riverside area,” says Mielke, who has received several scholarships, including the prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship Hon­orable Mention in 2015. “The Udall award is all about empowering and creating leaders who want to work on conservation and environment issues,” he explains. “I got the award in part for my work on the garden, which is great because it’s something I really wanted to do.”

No gardening experience is needed to participate in the community garden and, for now, plots are free to anyone who wants to plant and tend them.

Outdoor lab

In 2014, after more than five years of effort, three-quar­ters of an acre of city land next to the U of M Crookston (UMC) campus became the Allen and Freda Pedersen Garden. Funded by a mini grant from the U’s Institute on the Environment and a $25,000 donation from Allen Pedersen in memory of his late wife, Freda, the garden is intended to educate people on the importance of local food and sustainability. 

Student standing next to a board of photos, with a farm behind him
Tashi Gurung, ’13 B.S., was part of a group of students who advocated for a garden next to the U of M Crookston.

Tashi Gurung, who earned a bachelor’s degree in en­vironmental science in 2013, was part of a core group of students who advocated for the garden and helped get it started with support from UMC’s Center for Sustainabil­ity, Crookston Students for Sustainable Development, and the Crookston Student Association. All of the pro­duce grown in the garden, which students consider an outdoor lab, goes to the Crookston campus food service.

Food production is an important issue for Gurung, who is currently studying science, technology, and environ­mental policy at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Pub­lic Affairs. Crops are not easy to grow in his hometown of Lo-manthang, a small village in the Himalayan moun­tains of Nepal. Through his research, he hopes to one day help people in Nepal produce crops more reliably. “The region is very vulnerable to climate change, and I want to help people find ways to better adapt,” he explains.

Gurung worked in the campus garden for several months before heading to the Twin Cities for graduate school, and he’s been back to visit since. “We tried for a long time to get the garden going, and I was so happy to have been a part of it when it finally happened. For me, it’s an example that anything is possible.”

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

Make a gift to support the Cornercopia student farm.

Make a gift to support student gardening opportunities and the growth of Cornercopia.