“At some point I realized how much I loved teaching people these traditional skills,” says Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture alum Audrey Matson. This is how the concept started for Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply, the only store in the Twin Cities that caters to the city-sized plot farmer and maker interested in organic, sustainable methods.
An Idea Is Planted
Matson grew up on a farm about 100 miles away from the Twin Cities. As a child, she loved to can, garden, and help on her family’s apple orchard. She excelled academically and earned an undergraduate degree in history. She was still drawn to the landscape and farming but didn’t see horticulture as a viable career path at the time.
She worked in a bookstore and a garden center, raised a family, and later enrolled in the University’s graduate program to study garden design. She also started a 4H group in her Saint Paul neighborhood and discovered that other people in the Twin Cities shared her passion for homesteading.
Matson eventually changed her degree focus from garden design to entrepreneurship. She was able to select coursework she could directly apply to her new business—like organic fruit trees and food production—that broadened and deepened her understanding of plants and plant care.
"The connection to this huge network of faculty and people who have answers was more important than any one class."
The flexibility of the program also allowed her to complete a business plan for Egg|Plant as her final project. She worked closely with people from Women Venture who helped her write and develop the plan.
“Opening the store was a huge learning curve,” Matson recalls. “In some ways, the connection to this huge network of faculty and people who have answers was more important than any one class. The University is such a great resource.”
Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle
Matson’s store has witnessed a turn toward living more healthfully and responsibly, particularly in younger people who are coming to farming for the first time. Interest in fermentation (the process used to make kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir), for example has exploded. This is “partly for health reasons and partly as an interest in traditional skills, in knowing where your food comes from,” Matson explains.
Urban farming is part of a greener, more self-sufficient way of life. When you grow your own food, you often end up with a lot more than you need, and preserving or fermenting the leftovers can limit waste.
Raising chickens can also be highly sustainable, she adds. Chicken eat your food scraps, then they lay the eggs that you eat. Their waste can be composted for your garden so you can then grow more food. “When you start to talk about it this way, in terms of cutting waste, city officials can start to see it in a different light.”
She also credits the DIY “maker culture” with encouraging people to learn how to create or build things themselves, like knitting, sewing, and woodworking.
“I love living in the city,” she says. “It was a revelation to me that we can do this in our own backyards, that we can bring these traditional methods into the city. I think it’s a great way to have it all.”
If you are considering a Horticulture degree at the U of M, Matson recommends taking advantage of the people you encounter here. You will have “access to an amazing community of experts and professors” found nowhere else, surrounded by peers who are all pursuing interesting and inspiring projects of their own.