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ISSUE 119 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/11/2005

STOGROW plants new roots

By Tim Rehborg
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 11, 2005

An L-shaped plot of dirt, some rambling chickens, a couple of sheds, a barn and a farm emerge out of the dusky darkness at the bottom of the Hill. Located at the edge of St. Olaf’s natural lands, the farm is quiet now after a busy growing season.

The farm, called STOGROW (St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works) is the brainchild of Dayna Burtness ‘07 and Dan Borek ‘06, and sprouts from their experiences with farming. Burtness spent time working on a farm in Wisconsin, and Borek has worked at his family’s farm, which borders St. Olaf land.

Farming is not a new idea at St. Olaf. The college has leased land to neighboring farms for decades. Borek and other St. Olaf students started a farm at STOGROW’s current location three years ago. However, that particular venture was not student-funded, and ended as a one-season project.

This year’s garden, funded by the Student Government Association (SGA) and a Finstad grant, had a “successful season,” Borek said. “We had perfect weather for the most part, and it was really an experiment to see how this would all work.”

STOGROW has been an important part of St. Olaf’s landscape this year, fitting in well with the theme of sustainability.

The students began work this summer, planting seeds when most students headed home for the summer. The workers incorporated permaculture, a technique that encourages growth in a biodiverse manner, through companion planting. However, producing plants on a large scale through permaculture is difficult, so the gardeners generally planted in rows.

Fertilizer also plays a part in the sustainability of this garden. “This garden is sustainable in the sense that in 1,000 years, people will still be able to farm here” Borek said.

To sustain the fertile ground, the gardeners have even used copies of the Manitou Messenger in the soil.

“It is printed with soy ink, and therefore fully biodegradable,” Borek said. “It will take about two years for them to completely break down, but at that time they will enrich our soil greatly.”

Borek and Burtness plan to incorporate the product from the new composter, starting next spring, after sampling the soil and performing plot tests. Chickens, traditional components of any farm, also roam the grounds, assisting with the fertilization process.

It is important to the gardeners’ vision that STOGROW remains sustainable. “We don’t allow any chemicals; that’s our bottom line,” Borek said.

Borek and Burtness also plan to plant more perennial plants, which will generate new products every year, such as berries, rhubarb and apple trees.

Borek wants to install rain gutters on the barn to collect rainwater, as well as build some source of renewable energy such as solar panels or a wind-turbine. He has also applied for a Finstad grant for the construction of a bio-diesel processor, which would convert greasy by-products from the cafeteria into useful fertilizer for the garden.

This year’s harvest went directly into the food system at St. Olaf. “It’s a lost knowledge, knowing where your food comes from,” Borek said. “Most food travels 1,500 miles before reaching the consumer.”

The farmers worked closely with Bon Appétit, and the food company signed a contract guaranteeing that it would buy from the farm.

While the garden produces a lot of food, the farm cannot supply the immense volume of food needed to feed our campus.

“We sent them a bundle of 40 pounds of carrots, I thought it was going to be too much, but they had just ordered 600 pounds of carrots for the week,” Borek said . “I believe the closest we got to a completely STOGROW meal was a gazpacho made with our products.”

However, the garden supplies more to campus than just the opportunity to eat food produced by STOGROW. “We really want to see people discover the lost art of farming, producing food with their own hands,” Borek said. Anyone is welcome to go to the farm and help with caring for it during the times set up by Borek and Burtness.

This year a core group of about seven students helped with the farm. Many other students came down sporadically, helping with planting, fertilizing, weeding and harvesting. “It is a valuable skill, learning how to produce your own food,” Borek said.

According to organizers, the garden’s future is bright. “We want STOGROW to become a permanent feature of the St. Olaf campus,” Burtness said.

While the farm closes for winter, the cycle begins again next spring and at the beginning of summer, which is the growing season for the garden.

“The farm provides students with an opportunity to act directly, environmentally and sustainably on a daily basis,” Borek said. “It’s a way to change things, a way to operate in our daily lives, learning a skill while preserving our planet.”

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