St. Paul campus organic farm receives USDA certification

Amanda Cross feeds the chickens after gathering beans for the campus farmers market on Wednesday. The Cornercopia stand is run by CFANS students and is the only USDA certified organic produce booth on campus.

Jennifer Whalen

Amanda Cross feeds the chickens after gathering beans for the campus farmers market on Wednesday. The Cornercopia stand is run by CFANS students and is the only USDA certified organic produce booth on campus.

Berries, sweet corn, eggplant, lettuce and tomatoes only begin to describe the colorful array of produce available at the Church Street Farmers Market. Now in its fourth year, the market features seven unique vendors with local offerings. Among them is Cornercopia , the only stand to be USDA certified organic, offering items from the St. Paul campusâÄô organic farm maintained by students in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. Obtaining the USDA organic seal, which became official for Cornercopia only two weeks ago, is no easy feat, Student Program Coordinator Courtney Tchida explained. âÄúWe had to keep records of the seeds we used, where they were from, the kind of pots we used and had our land inspected through the transition years of 2005-07,âÄù she said. She was able to attach the official USDA sticker to their Farmers Market booth just last week. Tchida said the plot of land where the crops are harvested, just over an acre, is the only organic area on the entire St. Paul campus. Jeffrey Nistler and his niece also operate a booth at the market, representing Nistler Farms of Maple Plain. âÄúI know how hard it is to become certified,âÄù Nistler said. âÄúI give them a lot of credit.âÄù CFANS students plant and harvest nine plots of land on the St. Paul campus through classes and internships. Environmental horticulture senior Mike Goebel said he takes part in every aspect of Cornercopia, from planting the crops, harvesting, weeding the lands and preparing the food for market. âÄúItâÄôs about three-quarters of a full-time jobâÄù he said. Goebel said his hands-on classes in CFANS have taught him a lot about what it means to build a business like an organic farm from the ground up. Tchida said she is excited to extend the growing season this year, as the group incorporates the UniversityâÄôs new high tunnel system with several different crops. Similar to a greenhouse, the high tunnel offers warm temperatures ideal for vegetation. While bigger plans are in the works to offer CornercopiaâÄôs organic produce to area stores and restaurants, Tchida said her main focus is to keep nutritious, local products coming to the immediate community. âÄúWeâÄôll be looking to expand in the future, but right now we need more interns and students to keep up with the labor we already have,âÄù she said. The Church Street Farmers Market will continue to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays until October.