It’s no doubt farm work is hard. Not only that but organic, sustainable farming is even harder. From planting, to seeding, to harvesting, then planning and managing finances, an organic farmer’s year is jam-packed.
About six years ago, St. Olaf’s first and only sustainable, organic farm was established by a few students, mainly majoring in an area of STEM. Now, the farm is run by two full-time student workers — Gunnar Bodvarsson ’22 and Claire Michaelsen ’23, both biology and environmental studies majors. Bodvarsson and Michaelson started working for the St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works farm program [STOGROW] was the beginning of the summer after applying and being interviewed for the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program.
Every year, two new students are chosen to work at STOGROW. According to St. Olaf’s website, “[CURI] provides opportunities for St. Olaf students from all academic disciplines to gain an in-depth understanding of a particular subject by working closely with a St. Olaf faculty member in a research framework.”
Over the summer, Michaelsen and Bodvarsson maintained the three-quarter acre farm and are just finishing their harvest season. Groups of students joined Michaelsen and Bodvarsson on Fridays 3 to 5 p.m. at the beginning of the semester to help out around the farm — harvesting, washing, and preparing produce.
Once the produce is loaded into the two trucks, which can be up to 300 pounds per week, it is bought by Bon Appétit and are served in St. Olaf’s kitchens. STOGROW frequently sells food to Bon Appétit, and upon interviewing Michaelsen, she stated that “having a guaranteed buyer… is something that is nice.” She loves working outside “[and] wouldn’t trade it for any other job,” but frequently mentions that “without the land technicians…[planting, seeding, and maintaining the farm] would have taken far more time.” However, with every good side comes a bad one too. “It’s more [work] than two people can handle,” she explained. “There isn’t much of a community aspect [to the farm either].”
Professor Juliet Patterson is a faculty member and advisor in the English department and professor in the Environmental Conversation Program for first-years. This program allows first-year students to discuss, write, and explore various topics within the realm of environmentalism.
Patterson is of a similar opinion as Michaelson.“STOGROW seems like an obvious place where [the campus] can grow…it’s not just a place for ENCON students and two student workers,” she explained. “If we all thought more about our food, our opinions, views, our conversations would be completely different,” Pattersen said.
She urged St. Olaf’s campus to dig deeper into the sustainability practices that were put in place about 30 years ago. Two of those major advancements included the reduction in fossil fuels and the wind turbine, as well as a few loose composting initiatives. According to the captain and leader of St. Olaf’s Environmental Coalition Cassidy Schnell ’23, “there are lots of sustainable opportunities that the college has yet to explore what if St. Olaf got another [wind turbine], or installed more solar panels on top of the library?” Schnell said. She, like Patterson, urges St. Olaf to consider bigger steps towards sustainability.
It’s clear that STOGROW could use more of a community aspect and “better advertising,” according to Michaelson, so that students can become more aware and considerate of where their food is grown and the work that has been put into getting it to their plates.
One question that still remains is why the program is still seriously underfunded. Patterson stated that “it comes down to providing resources [from] an administrative level” which isn’t always easy or timely. The farm itself could also use more student workers, and students could benefit immensely from utilizing all that STOGROW has to offer.
Overall, it’s important to keep the sustainability movement at St. Olaf moving forward. Although creating change may not be like year-round farm work, it still takes the necessary hard work from all who are willing to do it.