LINCOLN, Neb. — For 150 years, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s East Campus has been an agricultural hub, the setting of much of Nebraska’s cutting-edge research, extension and ag education.
Over the decades, Lincoln has grown around the campus, which started as a working farm surrounded by prairie. Today East Campus is tucked into a neighborhood that includes homes, businesses, schools, restaurants, coffee shops and more.
This summer, for the second year, East Campus is working to bridge the agricultural community it serves with its Lincoln neighbors through East Campus Discovery Days and Farmer’s Market.
The event, which will take place on three Saturdays this summer — June 11, July 9 and Aug. 13 — includes vendors selling meat, popcorn, coffee, baked goods, crafts and more, as well as food trucks, live music and hands-on, science-based activities for youth and adults alike offered by various university departments. All events are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“East Campus has always been a space where people naturally congregate,” said Jessie Brophy, external relations director for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and one of the organizers of the Discovery Days events.
East Campus, she pointed out, is home to the UNL Dairy Store, Maxwell Arboretum and the Backyard Farmer Garden, all of which draw visitors from across Nebraska.
“We want to introduce more people to the beauty of East Campus and give them a taste of the research and discovery taking place here, all while supporting local agriculture,” she said.
Vendors and university departments will set up booths along the East Campus Mall, where campus visitors can shop and learn. Last year, for example, visitors could buy cookies, cheese and produce, among other products; learn about the inner workings of beehives via the Department of Entomology; see a futuristic farm robot at the Department of Biological Systems Engineering’s exhibit; or plant vegetable seeds at the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture’s booth.
“Backyard Farmer,” a television program jointly produced by Nebraska Extension and Nebraska Public Media, participated in the first-year East Campus Discovery Days in 2021 and is returning for the second year.
Last year’s events gave fans of the show an opportunity to meet its host and expert panelists in person, ask questions and tour the Backyard Farmer Garden. The tours were popular and attracted hundreds of “Backyard Farmer” fans, said program host and associate professor Kim Todd.
Todd said she appreciated the opportunity to have a two-way conversation with fans of the program, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary season this year.
“It’s really just several of us one-on-one, celebrating where we are,” she said.
Todd found that fans also wanted to share their experiences with “Backyard Farmer’s” host and panelists.
“We will have people coming, and their mother, their grandmother, their grandfather, their relatives watched ‘Backyard Farmer’ and took the advice, and now we have two or three generations later doing the same thing,” Todd said. “We want to hear those generational stories.”
In honor of the program’s 70th anniversary, Nebraska Public Media will host a booth with giveaways and a drawing. “Backyard Farmer” is also planning an anniversary party in the garden, complete with cupcakes.
“Backyard Farmer” is one of about 30 Husker programs, departments and other entities participating in the 2022 East Campus Discovery Days and Farmer’s Market. Another, the Loeffel Meat Lab, will sell frozen cuts of beef, pork and lamb, as well as smoked sausage, jalapeño popper brats, natural casing course-ground wieners and several varieties of snacking sausages, said Loeffel Meat Lab Manager Calvin Schrock.
The products for sale are produced by student workers studying meat science at Nebraska, Schrock said. Meat is available for sale at the lab from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fridays all year long, and Schrock estimates that has been the case for about 50 years.
“We’ve got a good number of regulars, but we still have people walk in on probably a monthly basis and say, ‘I’ve lived in Lincoln my whole life and my friend just told me about this place,’” Schrock said. “We’d just like to get a little more exposure.”
Todd Schmeeckle of TEAM Bean Coffee is one of about 16 independent vendors participating in East Campus Farmer’s Market and Discovery Days, and like Schrock, is looking to find a few new customers.
Schmeeckle has been roasting coffee in his home for about five years, starting first with small batches in a cast iron wok and upgrading to a popcorn popper and then to a rotisserie oven before investing in a coffee roaster.
He first roasted the coffee for himself, then began sharing with a few friends and providing coffee to a church and a few other nonprofits to sell for fundraisers. Now he can roast about 10 pounds of organic, free-trade coffee an hour.
Schmeeckle was drawn to the event in part because he is a graduate of Nebraska’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
“I got a degree in agricultural economics, and I spent a lot of time on East Campus,” he said. “I think that had a lot to do with the appeal.”
And in part, it was just a good fit, he said. Schmeeckle’s business is small but growing. He and his wife have five adopted children and five foster children, several of whom have special needs. It’s important to him to spend as much time at home as he can, and TEAM Bean is helping him do that.
“I thought this would be a good step for me,” Schmeeckle said.
East Campus Discovery Days and Farmer’s Market doesn’t charge vendors for booth space, which makes it an ideal place for businesses considering giving a farmers market a try, Brophy said. In addition to the event’s nearly 50 vendors and activity booths, a rotating cast of popular Lincoln food trucks will have food available for purchase, and different bands will provide live entertainment at each event.
For more information, or to view participating vendors, campus entities, food trucks or musicians, click here.
— Cara Pesek, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources News, University of Nebraska-Lincoln