Todd Rothe of Marengo to Manage Center
Three years ago, Northland College set a goal to have its cafeteria serve 80 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, 46 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, a fruit and nut tree grove, 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 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 commitments 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 80 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.
Mitigating Climate Change with Compost
Northland College currently composts 28,000 pounds of food scraps per year.
Impressive, but with a new composting unit, it’s about to get better.
The new unit has an input capacity of up to 1.1 tons of material per day—one-third food waste and two-thirds bulking agent of leaves, sawdust, and wood shavings—about 733 pounds of food waste per day, or 267,545 pounds per year. The College does not produce this amount of waste but will incorporate the food waste from other institutions in the region, and later, possibly, the general public.
“Unlike for-profit, large, multi-county or multi-state waste management facilities, the Northland College composting services will provide surrounding community partners with a highly efficient facility and state-of-the-art equipment,” said Rothe, who is managing the composting system. “Our model starts with reducing campus food waste and works outward towards removing waste streams across the community and region.”
The Food Systems Center, which includes composting, plans to have greater impact on long-range sustainability of our planet by concentrating on a full-spectrum of ecological conservation activities and solutions applied within a concentrated geographic radius.
By focusing on the local, the Center hopes to tackle global issues like climate change by engaging with the food chain start to finish—with regional farmers, local food processing, and composting to reduce waste, reduce methane produced in landfills, and improve the soil. All within a one-hundred-mile radius.
By focusing on local solutions, the College can address large-scale problems.
“If we can effectively implement a community-wide effort towards sustainability by removing food waste streams, this small-scale, efficient model could be replicated elsewhere with tangible results—hopefully avoiding the resistance of a problem that is too large or too complex to solve,” Rothe said.
Northland College’s expanded composting unit is efficient, cost-effective, and will decrease the most harmful greenhouse gases. The decomposition of food wastes in landfills produces methane, while carbon dioxide is the byproduct of composting. The EPA estimates methane produces twenty times more heat capturing properties than carbon dioxide.
To complete the cycle, Northland College will return composted food waste back to campus gardens, community households, and local farmers. Compost can build healthy, biologically active soils and thereby reduce agricultural use of petro-chemicals.
“Research finds that compost also improves water retention properties and reduces agricultural runoff and water use when used on farmlands,” Rothe said.
The current business model shows this processing facility to be fully self-sufficient within three years of start-up.
Hulings Rice Food Center
Food has always interested Mary H. Rice. At age four, she recited her own recipe for chocolate pudding, the recipe later served as the cover for a cookbook of some of her favorite dishes. From 1973-1980, Rice owned and operated Thrice, a gourmet cookery shop and cooking school on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue.
She moved to Bayfield from St. Paul in the 1980s, and made a huge impact on the region. She opened four restaurants—Maggie’s, the Clubhouse, the Egg Toss Café, and the Wild Rice. She is also an artist, philanthropist, community builder, directs the Mary H. Rice Foundation, and participates in family philanthropy through the HRK Foundation.
Rice has served on the Northland College Board of Trustees for thirty years and is a generous supporter of the College’s mission. Funds for the Center were raised by many friends of Rice and the College. In 2016, the Mary H. Rice Foundation initiated a challenge grant that matched contributions to the building, $1 for every $3 raised.
The Hulings Rice Food Center brings together Rice’s love for food, community, and her long commitment to Northland College.
“Helping Northland College in ways that help the local farmers seems very important for all of us,” Rice said. “This is especially true as it pertains to water which is very important and becoming one of the major issues of our world.”
The Don R. and Carole Larson Food Lab
Don R. Larson only attended Northland College for one year but he remained involved in campus life his entire life and beyond.
A lover of small towns and campuses from a young age, he used his own savings to attend his freshman year at Northland College from 1952-1953. His parents, however, wanted him to attend the University of Minnesota so when his savings ran out—he returned to Minnesota and attended the U of M, where he received his bachelor of arts degree in economics and a master of arts in journalism.
Don died at the age of eighty in February 2016 but his deep affection for Northland College and the surrounding community will live on.
During his freshman year, he wrote a paper on the economics of Ashland and the region. He argued that planners needed to start with what was in front them and stop looking for old industries to return to save the town.
This was a guiding principle for everything he did in his life. Don and his wife Carole, who also studied journalism at the U of M, though they met after college, founded the Crow River News and published the Osseo-Maple Grover Press and Champlin-Dayton Press in the northwestern Twin Cities metro area, as well as many other publications throughout the region.
Don was an innovator in community newspaper publishing, leading the industry in electronic typesetting and computerized composition over the decades, receiving awards for journalism, education, and innovation.
Carole first toured Northland College one month after she married Don. “He wanted to show me where he had gone to college his freshman year,” she said.
In fact, touring small colleges in small towns was something the two of them would do for fun and recreation their entire lives. “We both like small communities and seeing those communities thrive—we’d go on trips and find the smallest colleges and we’d ride around and wonder about what draws students to the particular college,” she said.
Don served on the Northland College Board of Trustees and was given the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2001. The Larsons also started the Don R. and Carole J. Larson Endowed Scholarship.
Carole returned to Northland College last year, after Don died, to walk around campus. That’s when she learned about the Food Systems Center and walked around the construction of the food processing and composting building.
She listened to how the first step was for the campus to process more of its own food and that it would become interactive with the community.
“My gosh, this is something Don had always hoped—for the campus to connect with the community,” Larson said. “Don was always interested in how Northland College could positively affect the community.”
Carole said she wanted to contribute to the processing kitchen, which is now named the Don R. and Carole Larson Food Lab.
“He would have been involved, talking to farmers, making connections—our whole career was about interacting with community,” she said. “Don would be tickled; his spirit is tickled.”