Farm-Sized Classrooms: Sandbox Cooperative provides a new model for young food entrepreneurs

Sandbox Cooperative

After such a deep winter, it was surprising to see almost a dozen people happily pruning trees in early March, wearing light sweaters and sunglasses, and most importantly, showing palpable joy in the task. 


For me, there was an extra level of happiness during the event, since the workshop was Sandbox Cooperative’s kickoff for the "rent your own farm classroom" program that aims to provide farmland and resources for sustainability-focused workshops. Along with co-founders Libby London, Josh Adrian, and Jeny Lai, I envisioned a place where people working toward a healthier food system would have room to play and create — think of it as a farm-sized sandbox — and weren't hindered by small classroom space. 

Pruning workshop in progressPruning workshop in progress

We started Sandbox in early 2013 in Ham Lake as a way to more fully utilize the resource of the Sannerud family farm. I am the fourth generation to call the land home but the first since my great-grandpa Hans to actively farm it. 


We provide land access, organizational development, and personal support to our members to help them succeed. For our young farmer members that means they get access to tools, farmland, and farming advice. For people who want to lead classes that means providing space for the class, management, and promotional support.


For example, on that early March pruning day, attendees ranged from master gardeners to urbanites to rural farmers, all slicing and sawing at 60-year-old apple trees under the direction of Sarah Claassen, a pruning expert from Land Stewardship Project. (I like to believe the trees were also joyful that day, enjoying their long overdue haircut.)


Plants that will be used to make dye in a future workshopPlants that will be used to make dye in a future workshopClaassen loves orchards and pruning but does not yet have her own orchard in which to practice and teach. Sandbox was able to provide her with a mature orchard ‘classroom’ in addition to workshop marketing. We'll be looking to continue these type of workshops throughout the coming farming seasons, on topics like vegetable growing, hops production, medicinal plants, natural dyes, and mushrooms.


Even though those are specific skills, we definitely have a larger vision for what we're trying to do. Sandbox was founded from a belief that our current food system is broken. With numerous farmers retiring, Minnesota is losing farms at twice the national average. That means we need to empower young food change-makers who can create work that reflects their values. We want to affect true systemic change, with a bold vision of developing an incubator model here that can be shared across the country. 

Do you have an idea for a “rent your own farm classroom” workshop that you could teach or would be interested in attending? Or perhaps you're a young foodie ready to put your values to work. Contact Sandbox’s Director of Outreach Josh Adrian at



Eric Sannerud is co-founder at Sandbox Cooperative and Mighty Axe Hops and staff at Farmers’ Legal Action Group. He is a MPLS Global Shaper, LEAD Mentee, and proud U. of M. alum. In his free time, Eric loves all things food.