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Cornercopia student organic farm

This was originally published by Madeline Giefer and was used with permission.

Over the past ten years, an on-campus organic garden has grown into a successful, diversified, and beautiful organic farm. Anyone who frequents the St. Paul campus may have noticed the bright colors and butterfly life in the distance, and visitors to the UMN farmer’s market have seen the fruits of their harvest up close. Cornercopia has become a household name on campus, and a visit to this small, thriving farm is well worth the walk.

Cornercopia is a student program in the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Since 2005 it has grown from less than two acres to six acres, due in part to growing public and scientific interest in organic agriculture. Each year professors and graduate researchers rent space for organic research, such as a strip of rye that will be used to compare brewing techniques and a row of broccoli that tests different pest control techniques. Research projects like this help keep Cornercopia well-funded and enhance institutional support for its work.

Although Cornercopia is mostly known for its produce, it has recently expanded into small animals. Chickens and rabbits have been raised successfully during the past few years, and another round of chickens are planned for later this summer. Small-scale animal agriculture has also benefited the crops, which are fertilized with the previous year’s manure and litter.

Thanks to skillful planning, natural processes at Cornercopia help with the needs of its own crops and those in the surrounding fields. “Beneficial predatory insects,” like ladybugs and green lacewings, control pest populations. Meanwhile honeybees find rich and diverse food sources in the flowering plants, which improves pollination in the area.

Cornercopia’s success is made possible by the work of several interns and dozens of volunteers who come to help for an hour or a few days.Students can even earn academic credit contributing to the farm by enrolling in HORT 3131: Student Organic Farm Planning, Growing, and Marketing. This spring semester course teaches the fundamentals of organic agriculture and allows students to kick off the growing season by starting plants in the greenhouse.

Even with all these helping hands, Cornercopia’s greatest challenge is finding enough volunteers to keep the farm running smoothly throughout the growing season. Anyone can volunteer for any amount of time, whether it’s for an hour one afternoon or a few days a week. Volunteers not only get to relax amid the colorful crops and flowers; they also get to sample some if its ripe fruits and vegetables.

If you are interested in visiting or volunteering, contact Drew Zagala at zagal002@umn.edu.

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