New freshmen get a taste of sustainable agriculture on tour of UMD farmRed peppers, string beans and cherry tomatoes were hot items Friday during a University of Minnesota Duluth freshmen welcome week event.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Red peppers, string beans and cherry tomatoes were hot items Friday during a University of Minnesota Duluth freshmen welcome week event.
About 40 students traipsed through rows of veggie beds at the 10-acre organic transition farm and five-acre apple orchard that make up UMD’s Sustainable Agriculture Project Farm at the Research and Field Studies Center. They were there to learn about sustainability, but there was a lot of eating to do.
“I love vegetables,” said freshman Rachel Strom, who was happy to see the tour offered. “I’ve been gardening every summer with my dad my whole life. It’s second nature to me.”
The agriculture project is part of “the explosion in local foods infrastructure development,” said Randel Hanson, who teaches courses on sustainability and the environment at UMD.
The UMD farm off Jean Duluth Road opened in 1912 when the school was involved in a push to produce more food locally. It remained so until the farm was closed in 1976 as the country shifted to a more globalized industrial food system.
“It’s clear now, that was probably a pretty dumb idea,” Hanson said.
The field and farm reopened in 2009 as the Sustainable Agriculture Project, which is student-driven.
“We’re trying to figure out how to become more sustainable and eat healthier and use minimally processed food,” Hanson said. “The university is back involved in that process in how to rebuild a regional food system.”
Part of that means growing food for UMD dining services. Coming out of gardens right now and going into dishes at school are slicing and cherry tomatoes, string beans, tomatillos, peas, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, lettuce, watermelon, kale, cabbage, green peppers, basil and dill.
Relying more on local and less on industrial is good for farmers, the economy, health and the land, Hanson said.
“Every region needs to figure out how to do this,” he said.
The farm has lots of collaborations. The Northeast Minnesota Beekeepers Association has six honey bee hives at the farm; there is the Three Sisters Garden, which is an American Indian garden; bat and bird houses; an ethnobotany garden for indigenous dye and medicinal plants; and a garden for Duluth public schools. There’s a 50-tree community orchard and a corn field. This year, between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of produce will be sold to UMD dining services, At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe, the Duluth Grill, Super One Foods, Mount Royal Fine Foods, the Whole Foods Co-op and the Duluth Farmers Market.
UMD senior Ryan Ritter works at the farm as part of UMD’s sustainable development research opportunity program. He likes bringing food closer to home, he said.
“We’ll get an order from dining services at 8 in the morning and we’ll have it there at 12,” he said. “It’s just wild.”
The farm’s offerings grow every year, he said, and he hopes demand grows with it.
Freshman Quinn Franti is a big fruit eater, and said teenagers have a bad reputation for eating junk. He’s excited that UMD’s cafeteria is buying more food from the farm; something he didn’t learn until Friday.
“This was very eye-opening,” he said.