UMN farm to build community gathering space

The North Gate Commons has been in the works for the University’s Cornercopia student farm for two years.

Katrina Pross

The organic farm on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus is raising money to create an outdoor gathering space and expand its crop plantings this spring and summer.

Members of Cornercopia — the student organic farm and laboratory, which is part of the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture — have been planning the North Gate Commons for two years. They hope to raise $15,000 to fund construction of a plaza, walking paths and an outdoor classroom, along with planting crops like plum trees, honeyberries and perennials.

“This would create a new, permanent place for urban sustainable farming on campus,” said Courtney Tchida, the student programs coordinator for MISA.

Earlier this month, Cornercopia raised $10,000 to plant 250 trees and shrubs in the area where the North Gate Commons will be constructed. The 20-day fundraiser, which aims to raise a total of $15,000 for construction costs, ends Monday.

Since the garden has received enough funding, planting will begin immediately. The North Gate Commons will be built this summer, and harvesting of new crops will begin in the fall, said Julie Grossman, Cornercopia’s organic program coordinator.

The University has one of the best student organic farms in the country in terms of its location and proximity to classrooms. However, the farm lacks a place for community gathering that would allow outside groups to visit the farm, like school-aged children on field trips, non-profit organizations that want to promote food systems, and people who are interested in sustainable agriculture, Grossman said.

“This will be a venue for community education about sustainable agriculture,” Grossman said.

About six different University courses visit Cornercopia for research and academic reasons, she said. However, the design of the farm is inconvenient for learning, since it’s spread out across multiple areas, Tchida said.

“We have a lot of students who are learning about sustainable agriculture who don’t have a physical space to do so,” said Anne Pfeiffer, the organic program associate for Cornercopia.

Grossman said she would like to see students form a club one day and spend time at the North Gate Commons, and hopes students from multiple disciples, not just agricultural fields, will visit.

“This North Gate Commons is really critical because we have students interested in sustainable agriculture and food systems who come from across the University, who start to connect the dots between food production and social justice issues. This will provide a physical and intellectual meeting place for these students … to meet,” Grossman said.