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Campus Kitchen Growing Food for Those in Need

Student volunteer organization started its own garden this spring.

Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 7-3-2015

Hoping to brighten up its meals with freshly grown produce and greens, the Campus Kitchen at Minnesota State University, Mankato planted its own garden this spring.

The student volunteer organization takes excess food from campus kitchens and local restaurants and boxes it into meals for those suffering food insecurity. But sometimes fruits and vegetable — fresh or otherwise — are conspicuously absent from the menu, said Karen Anderson, assistant director for Community Engagement at Minnesota State Mankato.

It has less to do with the businesses that donate than the kind of food ordered at local restaurants.

“Usually when we get donations, we get a lot of starch,” Anderson said. “We get adequate protein, we get desserts and we get biscuits. Nothing against our donors — we love our donors — but they don’t serve many vegetables. Either they don’t serve them, or Americans don’t order them.”

That’s why the organization started a garden. Campus Kitchen serves the ECHO Food Shelf, Blue Earth County Services, Theresa House, Welcome Inn and the Salvation Army, preparing roughly 112 meals each week.

It also provides meals for Cops and Bobbers, an event organized by the Mankato Department of Public Safety and intended to teach children how to fish.

The goal is to supplement just about every meal with the fresh-grown produce.

“This is the first year, so it’s a learning curve as far as how to do things,” Anderson said.

Obviously the garden’s success will depend on how much it actually produces.

In the meantime, Campus Kitchen is hoping to partner with local organizations capable of donating fruits and vegetables. Donations from the community are also welcome, whether they be in the form of produce or plants.

The vegetables themselves will be grown outside Campus Kitchen’s food preparation site. It is in the basement of Crossroads Campus Ministry at 331 Dillon Ave.

The plants are grown in raised garden beds, built using a $5,000 Gardening Rural Outreach Opportunities Volunteer grant from the National Campus Kitchens organization. (Because Mankato is outside the seven-county metro, it is considered a rural area.) Students also started a potted garden in front of Theresa House and Welcome Inn, side-by-side homeless shelters on South Broad Street. Produce grown there will be used for Cooking Matters, a class offered by University of Minnesota Extension that teaches at-risk families how to prepare health, delicious and affordable meals.

“Some of the women at Theresa House are in the program,” Minnesota State Mankato sophomore Mara Soupir said.

Soupir is responsible for building better relationships with Campus Kitchen’s community partners, as well as getting Minnesota State Mankato’s Honors Program involved in the program.

She was recently named the university’s CoBank Rural Hunger Fellow and is working to organize foodrescue- themed events to accompany this year’s Common Read program. As part of Common Read, students and community members will read “The Good Food Revolution,” which is about a Milwaukee man’s efforts to provide healthy food in urban environments.

She, as well as Minnesota State Mankato junior Hailey Gorman, have been working all spring to get the Campus Kitchen gardens built and planted. In the fall, Soupir will do a national webinar on the project and how they accomplished it.

In the future, Anderson hopes to expand the garden and build more planters. So far students are growing cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, squash and more.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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