Individual students make a big difference at Morningside College. A great example is the Morningside Garden to Table Experience.

Roger Freese loves studying agriculture at Morningside College because he’s knows he’s not just a number here.

“Our ag program is so new that we have a big say in a lot of what’s going on,” he said.

A great example is the college garden.

The Morningside Garden to Table Experience got its start two years ago in a History of Food and Agriculture class taught by Dr. Tom Paulsen, head of the applied agricultural and food studies department.

Students in the class loved the idea of a garden that could be used for both in-class study and co-curricular activities. The garden could provide fresh produce for the college dining hall and for local food banks, and it could be used to educate children and other community members about gardening best practices.

The college was awarded a $10,000 matching grant from The Wellmark Foundation. Then professors and students from departments across campus quickly got to work turning their dream for a garden into a reality.

Nearly 90 students contributed 270 hours of labor to transform the grassy lot across the street from Buhler Rohlfs Hall into a garden with in-ground beds, raised beds, pollinator gardens and a shed. The two raised beds closest to the street were made in the shape of an “M” and a “C.”

“All of the raised beds were built by us,” Freese said. “Most of them were designed by my friend Carter Anderson. He is kind of the guy – we call him our foreman – who helps plan and design everything.”

Last year students harvested over 2,000 pounds of produce from the garden. This year they added several beds and planted a wider variety of produce – everything from potatoes and carrots to broccoli, green beans and cabbage.

Students planted as much as they could before the end of the spring semester. Two student interns – Freese and Bryan Manzer – are taking care of the garden over the summer with help from Dee McKenna, faculty adviser. Then most of the produce will be harvested once students return to campus in August.

“A lot of what we’re doing is taking what we learned in agronomy and ag business management classes and applying it to growing our own food,” McKenna said.

Freese and Manzer both have very full days with jobs off campus and regular workouts with the football team. But they enjoy coming to the garden for everything from watering and weeding to fertilizing and pest management.

“Working in the garden has been a great learning experience, and I have a great sense of accomplishment knowing that the produce will be used in our very own cafeteria,” said Manzer, who also took care of the garden last summer.

Manzer would like to eventually sell tractors. Freese would like to sell ag commodities and trade grain. The ag department at Morningside College offers students a variety of career options depending on their interests.

It offers an overview of agriculture that is accessible even to students with limited experience in the field. Then students minor in specialties such as agribusiness, agronomy, environmental policy and law, food safety, political science or mass communication.

Just last fall, Morningside became the third college in Iowa to offer a major in agricultural education, preparing students to teach agriculture at the middle and high school levels.

Most agriculture programs are found at large public universities. It is rare to find a small college with professors whose full-time job is to teach courses in agriculture, according to Paulsen. He said Morningside is a unique option for students who want the small-college experience.

It’s the perfect fit as far as Freese is concerned.

“When I started talking to the advisers and realizing the classes I could take – just all of the crop stuff they have is really interesting, and I definitely enjoy learning about how things grow, whether it’s animals or crops – it really intrigued me all of the options I had.”

Watch social media for regular updates on the garden throughout the summer!