KU Student Farm: Growing Sustainability

Helpful hints from the University of Minnesota Student Organic Farm
September 7, 2010, 1:44 pm
Filed under: University of Minnesota Organic Farm

Here we are: at the beginning of the fall semester and the beginning of the life of the KU Student Farm. We have just begun our efforts to raise and maintain a great and sustainable garden. The garden is stable right now and is even producing lots of eggplant, tomatoes, leeks and cantaloupe. We could not be happier.

A lot of things have to happen before this farm really takes off. We have a lot to learn.

Katherine Boulware

I interviewed Katherine Boulware, Outreach Coordinator from the Cornercopia at University of Minnesota Student Organic Farm. I found out how her farm began, and how it has progressed to the present. Katherine told me that this is the fifth year for the Cornercopia.

She explained: “The farm began when a few of members from the student group WUSA (What’s Up in Sustainable Agriculture) were granted some land on the Universities test plots to experiment with sustainable gardening techniques. The group then asked for space to start a student farm, which the college granted with the stipulation that it be used for educational and research purposes.”

The Cornercopia was one acre when it began, and now has expanded to three! The project began with 14 interns, who found funding through several grants. Now, the seven interns (including Katherine and a volunteer coordinator who maintains the blog: http://cornercopiafarm.blogspot.com/) are paid through research grants and income from farm produce.

Cornercopia's market table 2009

A common concern with any budding student farm is how to reach an audience to raise awareness and excitement about the garden. The Cornercopia had a similar obstacle, and Katherine informed me about the ways the students got the word out about their farm. “Interest spread outward from the WUSA group and also from MISA (Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture) which has an office on campus,” she said. “Many of the students and faculty who are on the St. Paul campus work with agriculture or horticulture so there are a lot of people interested in the farm in that respect.”

Cornercopia farming

Unlike our student farm, Cornercopia is set up as a communal garden. Currently, one acre is continuously planted. It is one large, consolidated garden in which each intern is in charge of one or two blocks. Various plots include areas for nightshade crops, squash and spring crops, such as lettuces and radishes. There are also a couple of high tunnels in separate sections where students grow raspberries and tomatoes.

The Cornercopia has so much land and participation that I had to wonder what the students did with all of that food. The farm sells its produce to the campus farmer’s market and is able to produce enough produce to supply some of the produce served at University Dining Services. The accomplishments don’t stop there. Cornercopia also has a partnership with Campus Club, a restaurant on campus that incorporates local products. “They take a lot of what we produce as well, ” Katherine said. “We do our best to make the farm economically viable so we’re always looking for ways to market our produce to fund the farm for the next year.”

I asked Katherine what she wishes she would have known in the beginning.

“I think as the farm has gone on there have been a lot of opportunities to learn by trial and error, ” she said.  “Some planting strategies attracted lots of beneficial insects but made harvesting a nightmare. We’ve also learned the importance of proactive weeding and mulching practices as well as having good wide paths. Most importantly it’s good to think ahead: there’s always a lot more work that needs to be done than you think there will be.”

Thank you, Katherine for your useful information. I hope that we can learn from some of your practices, and keep in touch.

Exciting news: Our first student plot was planted Monday afternoon. Nicholas Kotlinski now has his own garden at the student farm filled with a variety of seeds, including salad mix, spinach, beets, turnips, radish, and kale. Nicholas is a senior majoring in Anthropology. He has been working with Jill Elmers at Moon on the Meadow farm this summer, part of the Growing Growers program. He has also been helping out Tom Buller at the Wakarous Valley farm. More from Nicholas coming soon … (To find pictures of Nicholas and his new plot, please see the University of Kansas Student Farm facebook page.)

Congratulations, Nicholas!

Want to have your own garden at the KU Student Farm? Please email me at kim.scherman@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading,