The vegetable growing season is just about complete, and there has been a bountiful harvest coming from unique gardens in an unexpected location in Cloquet.
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College established several new gardens on campus this past summer, and the first season’s yield coming from the gardens has exceeded expectations. The gardens were built as part of the college’s sustainability program emphasis, with a goal of providing hands-on learning opportunities for students and ultimately become a food source for fresh vegetables and fruits.
The Environmental Institute at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College organized the effort to build raised garden beds near the residence hall, pollinator gardens by the bee hive demonstration area, and the unique hugel garden on the south end of campus. The gardens have been productive in growing fruits and vegetables, even with a late start on planting for the season.
“It’s amazing seeing how fast things can actually grow,” said Julie Isham, a second-year Environmental Science major from Nett Lake, Minnesota. Isham was one of the students involved in the cultivating and nurturing of the new gardens on campus.
“The timing of all of the different vegetables being ready to harvest was tough to gauge,” added Isham. “Overall, it’s been a great experience and I really enjoyed it more than I thought I would.” The new gardens provided Isham with her first gardening experience. One of her takeaways from the process were the emotions attached to gardening. A big positive for Isham was knowing throughout the whole project that no chemicals were used in the agricultural process.
Isham hopes to see the garden progress in the coming years through growing more produce such as larger onions (the onions this year only turned out to be about the size of a large gumball) and potentially adding watermelon into next year’s crop.
The most unusual garden established on the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College campus is the large hugel garden near the gymnasium. Hugel derives from the German word hugelkultur, (pronounced hoo-gul-cul-ture), meaning hill culture or hill mound. Some experts claim hugel gardens are the ultimate raised garden beds.
A hugel garden is made by building a raised garden bed over the top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The rotten wood allows the beds to be loaded with organic material, packed with nutrients and plenty of air pockets for the plant roots to grow flawlessly. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming. The college worked with Ken Hammarlund to design and construct the large hugel bed garden on campus.
The hugel bed demonstration crops this season included sweet corn, strawberries, blueberries, onions, tomatoes, sunflowers, beets, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, black-eyed peas, and onions. The various fruits and vegetables planted on campus are not only meant for student learning, but also to help supply students on campus with a source of food in the form of fresh vegetables. College staff and students used the harvested vegetables in fun activities about making fresh salsa, sharing crockpot cooking recipes and meals, and in campus feasts.
Along with the gardens, the college built a small greenhouse on campus for starting plants from seed each season. The greenhouse project served double-duty as a learning project for students in the Electric Utility Technology program as they designed and built a small solar energy system that will help control the temperature inside the greenhouse.
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College created the Environmental Institute to actively promote the educational and cultural growth of the community in studies covering natural resources and the environment. Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College uses the Environmental Institute as the vehicle in environmental resource areas to follow all points of the College’s mission and coordinate ongoing education, research, outreach, and other activities.
For more information about the hugel garden or other garden beds on the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College campus, contact Courtney Kowalczak, Director of the Environmental Institute, at 218-879-0862 or via email to courtneyk*AT*


It is awesome here at the FDLTCC Education Program because it is like a family here, if you need help or are struggling with anything, you have quite a few people who will help you out.

My favorite thing about FDLTCC is the people. I’ve met fantastic students, faculty and staff who go above and beyond what I expected.

I chose FDLTCC because of its size and the curriculum. When I first came here in 2019, I was just looking for what I needed to volunteer, perhaps in a crisis shelter. I met with Don Jarvinen, and the rest is history.