Which Grow Faster, the Crops or the Students Who Tend Them?

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Summer 2016

By Meleah Maynard

Photo: Student farmers enjoy the fruit of their labors. Left to right: Drew Zagala, Kendra Sommerfeld, Laura Perticara, Maddy Matre, Collette Wilfong, Nathan Vikeras - Photos Photos courtesy Courtney Tchida

Universities aren’t commonly known for their campus gardens. But that is changing, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which counts more than 100 community gardens at colleges and universities across the nation. In addition to making connections between gardening and sustainability—not to mention creating beautiful spaces to enjoy—campus gardens serve as outdoor classrooms that provide students with learning experiences that can’t be gleaned from books. Two such gardens are on the Twin Cities campus.

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Cornercopia

If you’ve eaten food prepared by University Dining Services or at the Campus Club in Coffman Memorial Union, you’ve likely eaten something grown at Cornercopia, a 5.7-acre certified organic farm on the University’s St. Paul campus. Launched in 2004 after two horticulture students brought the need for an organic garden on campus to the attention of the U’s Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), Cornercopia began as a 20-foot-by-30-foot plot.

Manager Courtney Tchida (B.S. ’02, M.Ed. ’07) runs the farm, which is now a student program of MISA and the Department of Horticultural Science. Cornercopia provides research opportunities to students and faculty, as well as producing hundreds of pounds of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs per year, thanks to the work of volunteers and student interns.

Most of what’s harvested is sold weekly at Cornercopia’s two farmers market stands on campus. University Dining Services and the Campus Club buy the rest. “The food they grow at Cornercopia is some of the most flavorful, beautiful food I’ve ever seen in my cooking career,” says Beth Jones, Campus Club’s executive chef. “No chef around has the kind of variety we have, and the trick is to cook with a really light hand so you highlight the produce.”

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West Bank Community Garden

Located on the University’s West Bank between the Carlson School of Management and Rarig Center, the West Bank Community Garden got its start when a handful of students drafted a Living Laboratory proposal to the U’s Twin Cities Sustainability Committee. Their idea was to create a garden where students, faculty, and community members could garden together.

Now in its second year, the 2,000-square-foot garden is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, and the Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood near the West Bank campus. Like last year, the garden will include communal plots where people work together to grow a variety of edibles and perennial flowers, as well as native and pollinator plants.

New this season are 16 individual plots for community members—some of which have already been claimed by people taking English Language Learner classes at the Brian Coyle Center. Architecture freshman Sasha Karleusa is one of four students who have been leading the fledging garden. Her efforts began as a project she took on while interning for the Minnesota Student Association’s Sustainability Committee. “I grew up gardening,” she says. “But a lot of people in the city don’t really garden or grow food, so this is a good way to bring the community and the University together in a sustainable way. I want to be involved for years to come.”

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MINNESOTA ALUMNI MAGAZINE, Summer2016

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