As Michigan State University was founded as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, one of the country's first institutions of higher education to teach scientific agriculture, farming has always been a major part of the curriculum. Historically, farms were located throughout campus, with many north of the river before the expansion of the university. Types of farms included vegetable and fruit gardens, orchards, dairy barns, poultry barns, and stock barns. The image to the left shows a birds-eye wiew of M.A.C. farm buildings (Image courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections). An account found in the MSU Archives talks specifically about a pear orchard on campus in 1863. While the exact location of this orchard is not known, through different historical maps, it is possible to tell that some orchards used to be located north of the river, near the current location of Snyder-Phillips Hall.
By looking through purchasing records housed at MSU’s Archives and Historical Collections, it was possible to determine that many of the different food items consumed in the dormitories were grown or raised on MSU’s farms. However, the notations of these are very sparse. While some types of produce may be missing from historical records during the 1870s, MSU farms supplied campus with beets, parsnips, salsify, pickles, onions, cabbage, carrots, meat, and milk.
Also found throughout the records are listings of hourly pay for students working in the farms. During the early years of MSU, students would take classes, but they were also required to work approximately 3 hours a day on campus, including working in the vegetable gardens, orchards, dairy barns, chopping wood, and clearing land (MSU Archives and Historical Records; Peter Felker Papers 1869).
In the earliest days of the College, the only cows on campus were kept by the families of the professors. Frank S. Kedzie, a former MSC president and son of one of the first professors, recalls that his mother made the first cheese on the campus grounds (UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411). In 1867, Dr. Manley Miles, Professor of Practical Agriculture, bought the first dairy cattle for the college, which were Ayrshires. Jerseys were added to the herd in 1871, and the first Holsteins, the black and white standard dairy cattle, arrived in 1880 (Anthony 192: 12-13). Early account books show that the boarding halls were acquiring milk from the early herds of the Farm Department by 1871, if not before.
The first dedicated Dairy Barn was built in 1900 and held 100 cows. A new barn was constructed in 1929, which could house almost 150 heads of cattle and contained the most up-to-date equipment of that time (Anthony 1929:19). While updates were part of the reason for this move, another reason was disease. Tuberculosis wiped out most of the herd in 1904, and contagious disease continued to plague the herd in the decades after. Those in charge of the dairy hoped the move to a new, sanitary location would break the disease cycle (Anthony 1929). The image to the right show men gathered around cows outside the Dairy Barn, date unknown (Image courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections).
The first building containing a plant dedicated to dairy manufacturing was constructed in 1913. Known as the Dairy Building, it was located on the north end of Farm Lane (Anthony 1929:16). It contained a well-equipped creamery for the practical training of the students. The original Dairy Store was opened in this building, although the exact date of this event is unknown.
The Dairy Department and Plant remained in the Dairy Building until 1954, when Anthony Hall (named after Ernest L. Anthony, the former head of the Dairy Department) was constructed. The new dairy plant was highly productive, providing milk to all of the residence halls and making products such as chocolate milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dry milk, butter, and, of course, cheese and ice cream (including ice cream bars).
The high level of the plant’s productivity during the 1960’s become a point of contention with local private dairies, who did not feel it was fair that the MSU Dairy should have a monopoly on the campus milk market. Therefore, the dairy plant closed in 1968. In the meantime, local dairies found out how difficult it was to handle the fluctuating demands for milk of a college campus, and the dairy plant opened up again in the early 1970s. After this time the plant ceased to distribute fluid milk. The plant was gutted in the early 1990s and refitted with updated equipment. Now the plant successfully manufactures the cheese and ice cream sold through the MSU Dairy Store, a favorite among MSU alum and East Lansing residents alike.
In addition to consuming food prepared in the dormitories, early MSU students also supplemented their diet through the gathering of berries and honey and hunting animals like turkey and white-tailed deer or going fishing. There are several accounts in the MSU Archives from diary entries, letters, and poems written about their food gathering experiences. The image to the left shows a canoe on the Red Cedar River from an unknown date (Image courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections).
A story from one of the first students on campus, E. G. Granger, talks about some of his hunting expeditions. On December 4th, 1858, Granger and another student, Foote, went out hunting on MSU’s campus and successfully shot a turkey. They decided to give the turkey to Professor Williams, who invited the two students to have it for dinner with him. That night at dinner, another professor, Tracey, attended and informed the students that they shot the turkey that he was hunting early in the day from his hunting shanty he built in the woods. Several days later, on December 9th, Professor Tracey invited Granger and several other students to track and hunt white-tailed deer. To read more about these hunting and gathering stories, check out Autumn Beyer’s interview with NPR or her blog post on the topic.