Student farm serves community

Cornercopia Student Organic Farm resides as a place for students to learn about and sell produce.
Cornercopia marketing interns horticulture senior Ben Boo, left, and horticulture graduate student Ryan Murphy harvest rainbow chard at the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm on July 16, 2013, on the St. Paul Campus. Boo said the location of the farm in the middle of the St. Paul campus was very empowering to students who still have to work jobs in the city. "They can come to the farm right in the middle of everything and still be part of the University but still get to have that farming experience," he said.
  • Emily Dunker
August 07, 2013

From the seeds to the final sale, University of Minnesota students are taking a grassroots approach to raising awareness of organic farming.

Cornercopia Student Organic Farm started as the unsanctioned sharing of graduate student garden plots in 2004 and is now a nearly self-sustaining, certified organic farm in the middle of the University’s St. Paul campus. Produce from the farm is sold at local farmers markets and to University organizations.

Since moving to its current location on the corner of Dudley Avenue and Lindig Street in 2010, the farm has grown to cover nearly 2.5 acres, with plans to continue expanding.

Courtney Tchida, student programs coordinator for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Cornercopia farm manager, has been involved since the farm was a 20-by-30 foot plot on the corner of Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues. She said increasing support from the University has encouraged her to keep growing.

“We’ve already almost maxed out the land that we have,” she said. “[We] asked for more land, and they gave it to us. That’s been really exciting.”

The University became involved with the original student initiative in 2005, when the students decided they needed more space for the farm. The University developed curricula using the farm to turn horticulture education into a hands-on experience.

“I think that’s a cool perspective that we offer to the academic community,” said Cornercopia marketing intern and horticulture senior Ben Boo. “This is what tomatoes actually look like, and this is what it’s like to get your hands in the soil. A lot of people in academia haven’t experienced that.”

Horticulture students begin planting in the St. Paul campus greenhouses in February. From May through November, interns and volunteers spend up to 25 hours each week replanting, weeding and harvesting more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. They also occasionally raise chickens.

Produce is then washed, weighed and packaged for sale at a Cornercopia stand at weekly farmers markets on Pleasant Street Southeast and at the St. Paul Meat Lab.

Former biomedical library employee Dennis Weller said he’s been a regular of the Pleasant Street farmers market for years, and he looks forward to buying his produce from Cornercopia.

“This is my favorite stand,” he said.

Tchida said the farm’s positive impact on the community stems from its mission.

“We’re just going to be for organic and sustainable agriculture and not really against anything,” she said.

Cornercopia has always had a strong focus on broadening awareness through community outreach and partnerships with local nonprofits.

For five years, students from Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul have been visiting the farm to learn about organic farming.

“It’s outreach, it’s education, it’s feeding our local community and it’s research,” Tchida said, “[and] the balance of those four things in the best way we can.” 

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