Todd Rothe of Marengo to Manage Center
Three years ago, Northland College set a goal to have its cafeteria serve eighty percent local food by 2020. The College did not want to start a farm or to compete with farmers. “We wanted to work with growers to expand the regional food economy,” said President Miller.
In December, forty-six percent of the food served on campus was grown or produced in the region.
Now, more than half way to reaching its goal, the College is ramping up to become a scalable model for small communities. The College has launched the Food Systems Center, which includes food processing and composting facilities, a hoop house, an orchard, perennial and demonstration gardens, and academic programming.
The first phase of the Food Systems Center—the food processing and composting building–will be completed this spring. The food processing and composting building, three years of startup funding, and a manager position have been funded by friends of the College, alumni, community members, and two major donors—Northland College Trustee Mary H. Rice of Bayfield and the Mary H. Rice Foundation and Carole Larson of Osseo, Minnesota.
The building has been named the Hulings Rice Food Center and the food processing kitchen and classroom space has been named the Don. R. and Carole Larson Food Lab.
The College recruited and hired entrepreneur and farmer Todd Rothe ’10 in January to manage the Hulings Rice Food Center.
“Todd’s business acumen, knowledge of local foods, and his connections on campus and in the community, will not only help Northland College become a regional food hub but will further our new model for sustainability,” said President Miller.
Rothe, who has extensive training and experience in business and sustainable agriculture, hit the ground running. “It might seem strange for me to start in January in subzero temperatures, before there’s even a building, but right now is when farmers are ordering seeds and planning their crops for spring,” said Rothe, who met with farmers and secured contracts for increased vegetable production in his first few weeks.
The processing kitchen will allow for the College to prepare produce for the winter months, and it will allow for regional producers to use the space.
“The processing capability will absolutely give the College the ability to reach its goal of eighty percent local foods,” Rothe said. “And it will help farmers think about expanding beyond Northland College, knowing they can access a commercial kitchen.”
To further efficiency, the composting unit sits next to the processing kitchen, reducing the College’s carbon footprint. “It’s a capsule of high efficiency to reduce waste and fossil fuels,” Rothe said.
The College is currently raising money to fund a faculty director position to oversee the Food Systems Center, which will be structured much like the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation and the Center for Rural Communities.
“The Food Systems Center is a direct result of the strategic plan the campus community collaborated on in 2013, laying out a vision for the future of Northland College,” Miller said.