By Arya Misra ’22
After the sale of the Holstein cows of the Carleton Farm in May 1964, the land northeast of the Goodsell observatory remained idle for years. While Farm and Parr house sat patiently next to the water tank, a group of students were looking to a start a new way of life at Carleton. 1970 was an especially tumultuous year at Carleton. There were internal conflicts happening between the students and the administration over co-ed housing with the Third Burton incident causing waves of unrest among the student body. Additionally, it was a turbulent spring with the college shutting down due to anti-war fervor and ferocity and national emphases placed on the ecological/environmental front. In the midst of such chaos, a group of students expressed a desire to form what was then called an eco-group who would live together and place efforts toward social and environment progress. With the recent rise of student unrest due to the disbanding of the Parish commune, the school perhaps did not want to cause more stresses and agreed to the request. This eco-group was then given Evans D Dorm section to live together. With a total of about 10 students, this is what became the genesis of Farm House Group as we know it today.
The Evans D dorm became one of the first co-ed housing units on Carleton’s campus. The group bonded so well throughout the 1970-71 academic year that they decided to live together. A Carleton alumnus from 1974, Richard Armstrong, reminisces that Farm House Group provided an interesting juxtaposition with the Vietnam War protests going on campus. Farm alumnus George-Ann Davis Maxson ’73, recollects that one day him and another farm group member, Nancy Andrews, found the empty Farm and Parr houses while exploring the edge of campus that had been sitting vacant for years. With a dream of making the abandoned boarding houses for farm workers their new home, the group approached the College Finance Director at the time, Frank Wright, with their proposal to remodel the house as a student living space. To their surprise, the college agreed and in the fall of 1971, 14 students moved into the Farm House and started a community that would continue for generations.
With the basement designated as a creative space and a back room as a quiet space for studying, the group started planning the logistics of the house. The first floor bathroom was made co-ed while the two on the second floor were gendered. The small room on the first floor across the kitchen became the Natural History Museum, a dream child of Bruce Ambuel ’74. Bruce had wanted to make an educational space for children using the Arb as the classroom. With the aid of Frank Wright and the Biology Department, he started the Prairie and Wood Club that still takes place every summer. The Prairie and Wood program consisted of two four-week sessions, each including a morning program for children of ages five to seven, an afternoon program for children eight to twelve, and independent study for children older than twelve. The curriculum focused on increasing levels of ecological complexity from geographical history to natural cycles of water and energy. The program was able to bring the Northfield community closer to that of Carleton. In fact, one of the current residents of Farm House had attended the Prairie and Wood program when younger.
Slowly, the residents developed the basement to contain a complete library and archive full of art pieces and memorabilia. The basement library was a major part of the original 1970 proposal. The basement also acted as a workspace for some residents to practice taxidermy and tanning sheep skins. Roadkill from the highway was collected, stuffed in the basement, then brought to the Natural History Museum. What started off as a hobby became a renowned insect and animal taxidermy collection with people coming to see the in-house museum from the local community. Some of the stuffed specimens are still available to be seen in the Arb Office.
Over the years, what was once boarding house for farmers turned into an interest house for those interested in ecological development and communal living. The emphasis moved away from farming as the residents tried to focus on establishing a culture at the house that would carry generational memory for future residents. In 1993, one the farm residents, Kate Jesdale ‘95, started a small garden in memory of the Carleton Farm, the legacy still exists in the structure of Farm and Parr House. The small garden has since grown to a large and profitable endeavor and in 2007, the Farm started supplying produce to the local community through the Community Action Center and the Bon Appétit dining halls just like the Carleton Farm did in the 70s. A greenhouse called Hoop House was also built next to the house. The farm of Farm House became another way to incorporate the larger Carleton community into the smaller Farm one.
In 2011, the Office of Residential Life re-approved Farm’s status as an interest house and solidified its place among a larger community of interest houses. Farm House as a structure has become a witness to the evolution of farming and green spaces as aesthetic settings complementing educational values to a way of connecting people through food and community. What started as communal Sunday dinners in 1971 have become open dinners every weekday to the entire campus where people can simply join the residents for a meal. Creating a generational memory through its traditions and archives spanning back to the 70s, Farm holds special historic value as a space that has stood witness to various evolutions of Carleton College.