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Economics professor Amy Damon recently took her class on a field trip to Common Harvest Farm in Osceola, Wis., as part of her Economics of Global Food Problems course.
The class examines issues of hunger and food production, distribution and policy in both the developing and the industrialized world. So in late March, with winter still fully in effect, 22 students plus Damon and economics professor Sarah West spent a day learning about farming from the farmers themselves: Dan Guenthner and Margaret Pennings. As a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, Common Harvest has been delivering shares of produce to members for 25 years.
“I wanted students to see what a farm looks like, to learn about where the market power resides in food systems, and to understand CSAs as a social, political, and economic movement,” says Damon. “It was an opportunity to learn about crop tillage and soils from the farmers who run this very complex business.”
Students learned about domestic food production as they toured the greenhouses and the packing station where food is prepared for transport. They met the draft horses used on the farm and enjoyed pizzas baked in an outdoor oven. Political science major Jesse Meisenhelter ’16 (Portland, Ore.) signed up for the class because food policy combines her interests in sustainability and public health.
One of her projects is to analyze the effects of climate change on food security in the United States over the next century. Says Meisenhelter, “Visiting the farm gave the research I’m doing an entirely different context.” For example, average rainfall is expected to change drastically, she says. The farmers told her that historically 70 percent of rain fell in light drizzles beneficial to plants, whereas now most rain falls in hard downpours that destroy soil and drown young plants. “This is a real and intricate problem that has changed the way I approach the numbers in my research,” Meisenhelter says.
This class visit, along with an earlier one by geography professor Bill Moseley’s class, are among the first steps toward what Macalester and Common Harvest hope will become an ongoing relationship. Common Harvest also hires Mac interns, who receive both a stipend and housing while working on the farm.
And then there’s the most personal connection: Pennings and Guenthner’s daughter, Grace Guenthner ’17, is a first-year student at Macalester.