Day Burtness and Dan Borek hoped to start an organic farm and community-supported agriculture program at St. Olaf College. But Northfield, Minnesota—a small, two-college town 35 miles south of Minneapolis-St. Paul—was already served by multiple CSAs and a food co-op. School officials were supportive but skeptical that a student-run farm would find any real market, even if the two students could come up with the necessary land and capital.
But Burtness and Borek obtained the use of a small piece of campus land and later received funding from the student government association. They also met with Hays Atkins, who runs St. Olaf’s food service for the Bon Appétit company, to discuss the possibility of a student farm that would function as a wholesaler instead of a CSA. In a move that would ensure both the college’s green light and, ultimately, the farm’s success, Atkins promised to purchase every piece of produce the farm could grow.
While Atkins’ commitment to a student-initiated project is surprising and impressive, it fits squarely with the considerable energy St. Olaf, a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has for several years invested in ecological sustainability. The school’s current strategic plan names sustainability as a goal, and a task force—comprised of students, faculty, and staff—supports several projects aimed at both reducing the college’s collective ecological footprint and facilitating education and conversation on the subject. As anyone who has scrutinized environmental impact knows, a primary concern is food—its production, use, and waste disposal.