Note: This article is over a year old and information contained in it may no longer be accurate. Please use the contact information in the lower-left corner to verify any information in this article.

A piece of land with a purpose

By Kari VanDerVeen
November 5, 2010

Rebecca Carlson '11 stands among rows of tomatoes at the SEEDS garden earlier this fall. In its inaugural year, the garden produced thousands of pounds of produce.

St. Olaf students could learn a lot from a piece of land just south of Northfield.

And that’s exactly what Northfielders Greg '82 and Nancy Clark Carlson '82 hope will happen. When the Carlsons purchased 50 acres on the edge of town last fall, they wanted it to serve as a learning tool and community resource. So they partnered with St. Olaf to create an outdoor laboratory where students could gain hands-on experience in everything from sustainable farming to social innovation.

This summer the Carlsons worked with the Center for Experiential Learning to establish the Social Entrepreneurship, Environmental Design, and Stewardship (SEEDS) internship program, which gives two St. Olaf students access to the land with the understanding that they work to:

  • Gain a deeper knowledge of environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture
  • Foster experiential learning, discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship
  • Build community
  • Produce healthy food

While SEEDS interns Natasha Hegmann ‘11 and Chelsea Wagner ‘11 worked alongside Rebecca Carlson ‘11 to plant several acres of produce and establish a sustainable farming operation, the Carlsons opened the land up to others as well.

Matt Minea ‘12 is using a portion of the land to establish his beekeeping business, which was funded through a St. Olaf Entrepreneurial Grant. Permaculture enthusiast Emily Rose Pfaltzgraff ‘11 is examining which native, perennial plants would best suit the land, and she plans to use a grant from St. Olaf to turn some of her vision into reality this spring. And students in Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Stephanie Schmidt’s Introduction to Environmental Studies class worked the SEEDS garden throughout the fall, helping pick, wash, and market the produce.

Now three students from the Ideals to Action: Cultivating Social Change course at St. Olaf are taking a broad look at ways students and community members can engage with the SEEDS project. They’ll make a list of their ideas and begin making those connections throughout the community.

Greg Carlson hopes that the early flurry of activity out at the land is just the beginning. “I’d love to see 100 people doing things out there,” he says. “This truly is a place of discovery.”

Sowing the SEEDS
The SEEDS internship program was the first step in creating a learning space on the Carlson land. The internship is part of St. Olaf’s Leaders for Social Change program that pairs students with local nonprofits for the summer and requires them to attend weekly seminars on social change and civic engagement.

This summer’s SEEDS interns created and oversaw the operation of three separate garden plots: a commercial garden, a charitable garden, and a community garden. They took produce from the commercial garden, which they called the SEEDS garden, to local farmers’ markets and also sold some of it to St. Olaf food service provider Bon Appetit. Their profits from that garden helped support the charitable garden, and they donated all produce from that plot to the Northfield Community Action Center. The third plot, the community garden, was open to local residents, who were encouraged to help care for the charitable garden in exchange for their own gardening space.

The students raised and harvested thousands of pounds of produce that included tomatoes, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, carrots, cabbage, basil, kale, broccoli, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, turnips, onions, and more. They also raised 172 chickens and six pigs, feeding them damaged produce that they couldn’t sell or donate. “We wanted our animals to turn produce waste into protein,” Rebecca Carlson says.

Kris Estenson

Hegmann, who brought experience from the several summers she worked at an organic farm in Iowa, was prepared for the physical labor of establishing the SEEDS garden but quickly realized she could learn a lot about the business side. “I spent hours drawing up signs for the farmers’ market, drafting endless emails to organize potential markets, ordering seeds and equipment from distributors, talking with potential customers, and assessing how to fulfill the Northfield community’s specific food needs,” she notes.

The Carlsons will continue the internship program next summer and hope the land can continue to grow as a learning space and community resource.

“This is a great example of how alumni can work with the college to provide opportunities for students that they couldn’t get otherwise,” says CEL Assistant Director Kris Estenson.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or