For Tom Moss, a sophomore from North Platte, Neb., the Rosen Ag Center is not just the place where he goes to take his classes as a student in the Regina Roth Applied Agricultural & Food Studies program. This summer, managing and working in the Rosen Ag Center is his full-time focus.

“The ag center is incredible. Being at Morningside we already have a lot of freedom to research and explore ideas. This new facility has taken that to a whole new level. I am doing things as a sophomore that friends at bigger schools may not ever get to do in their undergraduate ag program. I love every minute of it,” said Moss.

The Rosen Ag Center is a new state-of-the-art facility constructed in 2021 thanks to a generous donation from Tom Rosen ‘70 and his family. It features a greenhouse funded by the Lags Foundation that honors the memory of Dave “Lags” Lageschulte ’73, as well as an outdoor classroom made possible by Cargill. 

“We were fortunate to have three major supporters for the project who really saw the vision of what we were hoping to build for students in our ag program,” said Mike Freeman, director of development at Morningside University who helped bring the project to fruition. “Our donors saw this facility as an investment in our students, in Morningside, and in agriculture in this region, and they were willing to come forward with the gifts to make it possible.”

“The opportunities for student research at any point in our program are significant, and those experiments and ideas are leading to new opportunities and partnerships,” said Dr. Tom Paulsen, professor and head of the department. “As a few examples, we will be growing poinsettias to be used on campus during the holidays, we have agreements with several restaurants in town interested in some of the food we are growing, and we have been able to provide some great learning opportunities for K-12 students.”

Considering that the program started with a conference room and three offices when it was launched in 2015, Paulsen could not be more grateful for the wonderland learning environment he is now able to share with students. “Tom Rosen and his family, the Lageschulte family, and Cargill have given our program an incredible gift with this facility that I assure you we won’t squander in any way,” said Paulsen. “The Rosen Ag Center has opened up a whole new world of teaching, learning, and research for us that is a huge benefit to our program as well as the community.”

In addition to the ag center and greenhouse, another project that Moss has been working on alongside Applied Agricultural and Food Studies Assistant Professor Dan Witten is developing the Cargill Outdoor Classroom and the test plot area located outside of the building. The land is being used for agronomic research plots and precision ag research plots. It will also eventually provide in-ground garden demonstration and production plots for crops that require larger spaces, a tree and shrub nursery for campus groundskeeping, an edible forest plot, a vineyard, and other potential outdoor ag and environmental science research.

“The Cargill Outdoor Classroom allows our students to engage in the applied portion of our curriculum. With its proximity to campus, students can be introduced to a topic and five minutes later see the application in a field-type setting,” said Witten.

These new spaces will augment the already existing Morningside Garden, which began growing in 2018. Students who took a class taught by Tom Paulsen helped conceive the idea for the garden with the hope they could use it for in-class study and co-curricular activities while providing fresh produce for the campus dining hall and the community. They also wanted the garden to be a place that educated children and other community members about gardening best practices. 

Paulsen and his students were able to attain a $10,000 matching grant from the Wellmark Foundation to get the garden going. With leadership from adjunct faculty member and director of the garden, Dee McKenna, 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. 

Since that first year, the Morningside Garden has had thousands of visitors and produced thousands of pounds of produce ranging from potatoes to carrots to green beans.

It was this level of student involvement that has also been key to building the Rosen Ag Center, Lags Greenhouse, and Cargill Outdoor Classroom. Paulsen, Witten, McKenna, and Professor Annie Kinwa-Muzinga found ways to break down the work needed to complete the new learning spaces so that students could take ownership in everything from selecting equipment to deciding the layout. 

“Building this program has been a step-by-step, phase-by-phase process. Involving students at every point has been great not only because of the experience it offers them, but I also appreciate the assurance that the students are working alongside us as we make decisions so we know we are creating the kind of learning environment they want,” said Paulsen.

With the Rosen Ag Center now in full bloom with ideas, research, swiss chard, basil, and so much more, the students and faculty in the Regina Roth Applied Agricultural and Food Studies program are enjoying their bounty with an eye toward the future.

The new facilities also have the ag department considering new possibilities for its curriculum.

“There is obvious potential for more course additions, as well as possibilities for new minors or even majors,” Paulsen pointed out. “We will be engaging in discussions with business and industry partners, other educational partners, and our campus community to strategically consider what might come next.”

As Dr. Kinwa-Muzinga shares, though, the new ag facilities have already made a tremendous impact on allowing faculty and students to put learning into action. 

“When I arrived in 2018, I turned to Dr. Paulsen and asked, ‘Where is the farm?’ I did not know how I was going to teach experientially without a farm. Four years later, we have the garden, a great facility that includes a greenhouse, and will soon have an outdoor classroom. As faculty, we can talk numbers and theory in a classroom, but the students have to be able to put those concepts into action. These new facilities open up a whole new world of possibilities to allow our students to engage and experience what they are learning. Like we say at Morningside, experience matters.”