From land that was once part hobo camp and part dumping ground for the local slaughterhouse grew the Carleton College Farm. A local remembers it as, “a sort of way-station where the numerous knights-of-the-road overnighted.” In 1914 Carleton’s third president, Donald J. Cowling, birthed a vision for a dairy farm.
He imagined that the farm would provide dairy products to the dining halls, while also serving the public as an agricultural laboratory for experimenting with modern dairy practices. Allegedly, he also hoped to retire to the farm.
In order to integrate the farm into student life, between 1914- 1920 Carleton offered classes in the Agriculture Department such as “Animal Husbandry”, and “Plant Life on the Farm.” The professor, Frederick F. Showers, however was confronted with an apathetic response from the liberal arts-minded Carleton students.
The college also created a student employment scheme where students would live and work on the farm to pay for room and board.
However, according to ccording to Merrill E. Jarchow, editor of Carleton Remembered and author of Carleton, the first century,“the farm work demanded too much of the students’ time and was not conducive to studying.”
Despite the student drought, the Carleton Farm continued to function and produce milk for the dining hall. By 1932 Carleton’s Holstein herd was producing 275 gallons of milk each day.
However, the Carleton’s farm was not without tragedy. In 1926 a barn fire took the lives of a beloved bull, Colonel Ornsby. As the cow burned alive students assembled outside of the barn chanted, “Oh, boy, roast beef all this week!”
In 1930, an epidemic of polio took the lives of two students. The deaths were traced to bacteria-infected milk, provided by the Carleton farm.
Pasteurization was not a common practice in the 1930’s, but after the polio outbreak, the Carleton Dairy Farm began to practice pasteurization.
At its most productive, the farm delivered 300 gallons to the dining hall every day. In 1961, the Carleton herd of Holsteins was officially “classified”, a high honor in the cattle industry.
Despite its successes, in 1964 the Carleton Farm was shut down. The Board of Trustees viewed the the farm as a “dispensable luxury,” with large operational costs, and even greater maintenance expenses, and decided to dismantle most of the farm’s land at a local auction.
Although approximately 400 acres remained under Carleton management and were used to grow soybeans, corn, oats, and hay, all 110 Holsteins were sold, along with various milking mechanisms, and other farm equipment.
After seven years of latency, in 1971 the Carleton Farm House remerged, this time under the guise of the Natural History interest house. 20-odd years of various use for the farm went by before, in 1992, the Carleton Farm Project was initiated.
Bryan Foster ’93 and Tyler Glenn ’93, a transfer student from Deep Springs College created the Farm Club. Their plan was to start a two-acre garden in the spring or fall term of 1993, and, in 1994 add 50 acres of farmland.
In 2008, after Katie Blanchard ’10 began working as the first full-time Carleton Farm intern, Bon Appetit began purchasing produce from the farm.