Chickens go to college? College students lead campus environmental projects.


For some, the title of gardener brings to mind the image of a grandmother planting veggies in her backyard.

A newer picture of gardening can be found on college campuses. The sounds of chickens clucking and a fresh-planted bed of greens behind the eco-house at Macalester College is one example.

“This garden itself is sort of like an experiment. I’ve never been in charge of a garden before,” said Macalester junior Leah Plummer, who is running the garden for the summer.

College students around the Twin Cities are bringing community gardens to their campuses and leading sustainability projects.

When Plummer grew her first vegetable, she found it “empowering.” She also was part of a group of students who first approached Macalester’s administration about raising chickens on campus.

Macalester, known for being a local leader in sustainability, approved the idea for a chicken coop this year. Now six chickens live in a coop built by a student out of recycled barn wood. Four are currently producing eggs, and some eggs are a light shade of green.

“They’re really easy to take care of, so there is no reason not to have chickens,” Plummer said.

Right: Macalester Junior Leah Plummer describes the chickens’ breeds.

Student visitors are welcome to visit the garden and chickens, Plummer said, and take some vegetables or eggs. Bon Appétit, a local company that provides catering services to colleges and universities, buys vegetables grown in Macalester’s community garden, she said.

The University of St. Thomas also has a community garden – the UST Stewardship garden. The program started last summer, and donated more than 400 pounds of fresh produce to the Emergency Food Shelf Network in its first year.

“There are students like myself who want to find an alternative to the industrial food system,” said University of St. Thomas senior Aaron Hays.

Hays is working on a student research project in the Stewardship Garden.
He measures student attitudes and knowledge about sustainability issues, food issues and how that changes over the summer.

Steve Trost, St. Thomas greenhouse manager and an adviser for the garden project, helps grow the seedlings that students plant in the garden. Since the first year was successful, the students “proved to the administration last year that [they] could do this project,” he said.

The garden has been relocated, so students have even more space to grow produce this year.

“From where we were from last year to this year, there’s so many more students that are aware and really excited about it,” Hays said.

Hays estimated about 40 to 50 students volunteer to help take care of the garden. “The only way I found that to get anything done is to do it together.”

Minnesota colleges outside the Twin Cities also have community gardens.

St. Olaf College junior Anna Martin had no experience in gardening while growing up in Kansas City. She is now the lead farmer of the St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works, a student-run organic farm on campus that began seven years ago.

St. Olaf uses the food grown in its community garden for the cafeteria, so students grow and eat their own produce. Carleton’s Farm Club also produces fresh vegetables and fruits for its cafeteria.

Martin suggested teens should talk to parents, visit a farmers market and start a small garden on a windowsill before starting a bigger garden.

“It’s just about watering them and doing little research to see what they need and just watching them grow,” Plummer said.