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Karen Joslin, Student Organic Farm, (515) 294-3858
Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778


AMES, Iowa -- While most college students have closed their textbooks and cleared out their residence hall rooms, one group of Iowa State University college students is gearing up for their busiest time of year.

Students harvesting radishes The 15 students who operate the ISU Student Organic Farm are in the midst of planting potatoes, harvesting radishes and organizing three upcoming workshops for novice vegetable growers.

The six-acre organic farm is both a small business and a learning center. Students learn the intricacies of marketing in local food systems and get their hands dirty practicing organic farming skills. They manage all aspects of the farm -- from scavenging for supplies to selling at market.

Initiated in 1996, the Iowa State operation is one of only a handful of student-run organic farms nationwide.

The produce grown on the farm is sold at the Ames farmers' market, and to local stores and restaurants. The ISU farm is one of five local farms that supplies fresh produce each week to subscribers of the Magic Beanstalk Community Supported Agriculture project.

"We're committed to supply Magic Beanstalk with tomatoes, potatoes and onion, so those are our priority," said Karen Joslin, a graduate student in horticulture and sustainable agriculture. "We have planted 3,000 onions, 1,200 potato plants and about 400 tomatoes."

Funding for the farm comes mostly from produce sold. Grants and the ISU Government of the Student Body provide additional funding support. The university supplies the land, which is located south of campus on Mortensen Road.

"We have to make money and supply produce. If a crop fails, it's not just a disappointment, it's a financial setback," Joslin said.

The group also grows spinach, zucchini, squash, okra, kale, broccoli, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb and some herbs. Crabapple and hazelnut trees have been planted as windbreaks.

Most students spend between one and five hours per week volunteering at the farm. Some students volunteer as many as 15 hours each week. For the most part, management decisions are shared, Joslin said.

Pernell Plath, who is finishing her master's degree in sustainable agriculture this summer, will put her management and hands-on experiences to good use. She has accepted a job developing local food systems in Kentucky.

"I now have a sense of the challenges and opportunities," Plath said. "I didn't have any experience in organic farming. Now, I understand the complexities. My work on the farm has made me more conscious of what all is involved."

The students want others to learn the philosophy and practices of farming without chemicals.

"Part of our mission is to reach out to the community to promote sustainable agriculture," Joslin said.

Three workshops will be held this summer in the farm's outdoor classroom: Organic Vegetable Gardening, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 8; Backyard Composting, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 14; and Kids' Day on the Farm, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, August 10.

The farm is located at 3500 Mortensen Road. For more information on the workshops, call 294-3858, or e-mail


A downloadable image of the photo above is available at

Iowa State University
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Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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