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UMD Agriculture: Then and Now

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UMD farm barn  

UMD barn at the research facilities site


In June 1954, a publication titled “The First Forty Years At the Northeast Agricultural Experiment Station” was compiled by Mark J. Thompson.

Within its contents, readers are privy to the history of the Institute of Agriculture affiliated with the University of Minnesota; the station was located in Duluth at the current UMD research facilities.

Thompson noted in 1954 that “during the past 15 years an additional 30 acres of land, bordering original holdings on the north, have been acquired. A new underground water system has been installed with fire hydrants, and 50,000-gallon 130-foot water tower was erected in 1949. A secondary well has been drilled to support the original one. A new dairy barn was built in 1948-1949. The herd is protected with a concrete slab ceiling. During recent years the original buildings have been serviced with new roofs, insulation, fresh stucco, painting, and general reconditioning. Supplementary service buildings including greenhouse, seedhouse, and root storage cellar complete the working unit. The office building serves as administrative center and the auditorium provides facilities for large groups of visitors at institutional events. The landscaping features and the plantings of the early thirties have made the 20-acre campus a retreat of beauty and distinction in sharp contrast in its appearance to the dreary waste of brush and water when the first buildings were raised 40 years ago.”

Thompson also questions what the functions of the branch agricultural experiment station would be, eloquently listing the various reasons the station exists, including how researchers at the site could test grain and fruit varieties; study regional crops and land issues; and, “maintain a herd of rudiment animals to consume the forage crops grown and to provide revenue and fertilizer.” Among the numerous functions, Thompson also ruminates on the importance of investigating crops that would thrive well in the cool, Duluth climate.

Even though the original barn is still standing at the facilities, the structure is mainly used for storage in the 21st century. However, the rich agricultural history has continued with efforts by many UMD departments, including SAP@UMD and the Office of Sustainability. Both have collaborated with several UMD departments to initiate the edible gardens found throughout the campus.

“We sent an open invitation to faculty, staff, and students,” said Mindy Granley, coordinator in the Office of Sustainability. “The groups that adopted edible gardens on campus have successfully concluded a second year and we are really happy with the positive feedback from everyone involved.”

With 16 edible gardens dotting the campus map, it’s evident that a passion for local food and peaceful gardening is not just a dream of the past; it is a living, thriving, beautiful reminder that there is room for growing gardens even in the academic arena.

Below is a rolling, animated gallery from the 16 gardening groups during the summer of 2012. Each section is timed for 20-seconds.

UMD Edible Gardens

To learn more about UMD Sustainability, visit


Written and Designed by Christiana Kapsner, August 2012

Photography by Christina Higgins and Christiana Kapsner

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