Research Farm holds value, memories for student

CASEY SNYDER Guest Columnist

t South Dakota State University. I have gained skills in horticulture, learned the history of pioneers in the industry and had the honor of working with people who know so much but are now no longer a part of the university.

There’s a place just across Interstate 29 where I have learned more about what is possible in my field than anywhere else on the SDSU campus. The Niels Ebbesen Hansen Research Farm is home to grapes, future syrup producing maples, unique apple varieties and many hours of happiness for me and others. 

This farm was once a place of innovation and activity. Today, the property is considered underused and may possibly be sold if SDSU chooses to do so. This property still holds incredible potential for research and stands to model itself after Iowa State University. The history of the property still has an impact on students today.

On a winter’s day, I stroll along the gravel roads at the research farm and look up into the dormant trees. Often, I spot a crow—some days I catch small sparrows swinging around in the Dogwood shrubs. There’s a huge, white cat living near the out buildings, and a few deer resist capture by hiding in the brush and avoiding the corn bait set by Game, Fish and Parks.

I am usually alone in these mwoments, but occasionally, I invite a wild Brittany puppy and a wilder, blonde entomologist to join me.

When I’m alone I feel just that–alone. My daydreams are filled with summer sounds and warm wind. Memories return to days I spent harvesting vegetables, pruning apple trees and picking up windblown sunflower stalks. Autumn bright squash and spring bulbs fade into the white snow as I wish for the land to transform into a horticultural oasis among the corn and soybean fields.

During the spring semester of 2015, I was very lucky to host an event at the research farm. Here, I taught people about mushroom cultivation and gave them a chance to try it themselves on logs that I harvested from the bountiful and unused trees on the N.E. Hansen site.

Friends, family, professors and new acquaintances came and went to the farm. Each person left with a newly inoculated log and with a new skill to be shared with others. By this point I could see that an event like this was rare and not likely to happen again anytime soon.

I had already begun to spend less and less time here after the plant science department shut down the student farm and Community Supported Agriculture program that had just begun the year before in 2014. As one student of many that gained so much from that program and from the instructor who headed it, I was extremely disappointed to see it go. Today I remain disappointed with how little work is performed at the N.E. Hansen Farm and with the lessening impact of horticulture in South Dakota.

In May, I will have to say goodbye to the research farm. I wish more students knew the farm like I did and there was an initiative to save the property and to use it for a real farm and production site.

The farm was not just some disconnected plot of land over the interstate. The N.E. Hansen Research Farm was (and is) a place of horticulture, history and, most importantly, opportunity. I came to this farm with little knowledge about what it was or who it was for, but today I can’t believe how much I gained from my time there.

Do yourself a favor and take time to learn about N.E. Hansen. Take time to value a place or a person you learned from whether you can still visit that place or person or not.

If I’m lucky enough I’ll be able to see the apple trees bloom and leaf in the spring one more time before I go.

Casey Snyder is a horticulture major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].