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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Pastoral profits: STOGROW celebrates first harvest

By Lisa Gulya
Arts Editor

Friday, September 16, 2005

This summer marked the successful debut of the partnership between St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works Farm (STOGROW) and St. Olaf meal provider Bon Appétit.

The STOGROW farmers, Dan Borek ’06 and Dayna Burtness ’07, grew vegetables and herbs on just under an acre of land on James Farm, owned by St. Olaf. They had the most success with eggplants, tomatoes, basil, zucchini, yellow squash and several kinds of peppers.

Since late July, STOGROW vegetables have been used in the salad bar and grains line, while herbs, chiefly basil, are used in pesto and marinara sauce. Now that the academic year has begun, 40 pounds of tomatoes can be used for one meal.

Customer response has been positive so far. "I’ve heard nothing but good things," Bon Appétit employee Penny Yahnke said.

Several groups that had conferences or camps this summer at St. Olaf, including a yoga retreat and an international group, remarked about the high quality of the produce. The group that praises STOGROW’s produce the most, however, is "the guys working in the back – handling it and tasting it and using it," said Peter Abrahamson, executive chef for Bon Appétit.

Since STOGROW produce is picked when ripe and not refrigerated, it surpasses produce shipped long distance in freshness, smell and intensity of flavor. "It’s way nicer than I thought it would be," Abrahamson said.

Bon Appétit management was equally pleased with the partnership with STOGROW. "It was so successful on every level," Bon Appétit General Manager Hays Atkins said, referring to multiple aspects of the project, such as working with the students to the quality of the product. "If they grew ten times as much, we’d buy it all."

So far, STOGROW has been profitable. However, as Borek pointed out, any farmer is hesitant to mention success before the season is through.

STOGROW’s initial funding came from several sources. The Student Government Association (SGA) provided $6,400 for equipment, and a $2,000 Finstad Grant allowed Borek and Burtness to hire a full-time worker, Gloria MacWilliams-Brooks ’06. Borek and Burtness each received $750 Joy Korda Schaefer Memorial Scholarships for service excellence. In addition, Residence Life provided Burtness and MacWilliams-Brooks with free summer housing.

Borek and Burtness will split the profits from sales to Bon Appétit, minus the cost of seeds, which was around $300. Borek expects profits to total between $4,000 and $5,000 by the season’s end.

The year’s first frost, which often arrives before mid-October, will probably end STOGROW’s production for the year. With a good start in the greenhouse in the spring, STOGROW could be producing lettuces and herbs by commencement time in May.

"We’d just love to see them expand and have more variety," Yahnke said. Abrahamson and the STOGROW farmers will choose crops that are more resistant to disease and insects.

Borek and Burtness also plan to bring in a third partner and double the land they are cultivating, making sure they do not produce more than Bon Appétit can use during the summer. "Three is enough to handle the amount of expansion that would make it profitable," Borek said.

Borek and Burtness will both return next summer, but they want to hire someone who can continue the project after they graduate. "We’re looking for younger students who can be there for a few seasons," Borek said.

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