by Lily Akre, Hali’a Buchal, Morgan Dieschbourg, and Maya Shook
Our group focused on how the artifacts found at the Olin Farm site related to Carleton student life and broader practices within the community throughout the 60s-90s. We specifically focused on waste disposal practices and dining hall traditions and practices at Carleton. To aid in our research, we interviewed three people with varying degrees of connection to the Olin Farm house. Based on their oral histories and research in the Carleton archives, we found that our site seemed like a forgotten corner of campus. The artifacts we found while excavating provided the basis for our analysis. We concluded that the archaeological study of Olin Farm provides a case study for common practices of waste disposal in rural Minnesota, and the evolution of dining practices on Carleton’s campus.
Through our visit to the archives and our interviews with alumni, we found that there was very little student engagement with the Olin Farm during the 1960s-80s. We have not found any information on why the garbage we found at the Olin Farm was disposed of there or where it came from. This lack of information prompted us to focus on waste disposal practices in Minnesota more broadly to see what we can learn about the Olin Farm from this research, and what we can learn about waste disposal practices from the Olin Farm. Along with looking at waste disposal practices in Minnesota from a broader perspective, we looked at the waste disposal practices of Northfield specifically. By investigating how the town manages waste and its relation to the development of how disposal is viewed and then analyzed through the process of excavation and interpretation of artifacts found.
What does the Olin Farm reveal about waste disposal practices in Minnesota? What does the garbage we found at the Olin Farm reveal about student life at Carleton?
Recent History of the Olin Farm House: 1960s-90s
Since we focused on student life at the Olin House and Carleton as a whole in the 60s-80s, we relied on interviews with past Carleton students and faculty. Our professor, Sarah Kennedy, sent out a survey to past alumni asking about their interactions with the site. We ended up reaching out to the respondents and talking with three past and current inhabitants of the Olin Farm House. From these interviews, we gathered that there was little student interaction with the Olin Farm, at least from the 1970s to the present day. We also connected with a community member named Linne Jensen, a former Carleton student. She began living at the Olin Farm house with her siblings and two other Carleton students during the 1970s. The house was not a part of traditional student housing, but the college offered it to Linne as an accommodation for a unique situation. Carleton had been renting out the house previously, and when Linne first arrived at the house, it was in “terrible condition,” indicating that the Olin Farm area had been largely neglected by the college and tenants once the farm was out of operation. “I remember the guy when he was showing it to me being embarrassed at the condition it was in and saying well you know we probably would have torn this down if you hadn’t come along and loved it,” she said. Linne and her friends and family fixed up the house and she described it as a “wonderful” place to live. She and her family started a garden, kept a variety of cats and dogs, and enjoyed skiing in the Arboretum. “It was really idyllic,” she concluded.
Linne Jensen in 1978, The Carletonian
Most of the farm structures had been torn down by the time of student occupation at the house. Linne wasn’t aware of any buildings behind the house during her time there except for the hog farm and a storage shed. She and the other residents didn’t venture back behind the house. Dave Neiman, a Carleton alum, lived at the Olin Farmhouse starting in 1983 when he worked for the college. “I don’t really remember any remnants of any other buildings or stuff like that, the whole area was fairly overgrown, it led right into the Arb…the college didn’t maintain that part of it, they maintained the yard and the driveway a little bit but it ended right about there,” he said. He also described the house as “pretty isolated and was not a place people would go for any reason.” In 1987, after Dave moved out, Professor Mark McKone moved in and has been living there ever since.
Dave Neiman in 1980, The Algol
Mark McKone in 1992, The Carletonian
Garbology and Waste Disposal Practices in Minnesota
Garbology is the study of trash and how it can be analyzed to learn more about the community or broader culture that it came from. There are a variety of aspects of life that can be learned about by picking through your trash. From personal habits to a wider view on one’s culture and beliefs, garbage can provide insight into a person’s life, environment, and the time period being analyzed. Depending on what waste disposal category you are focusing on, whether it is landfill, recycling, or compost, that specific category will provide you with a focus on what you will look at, given specific objects are thrown away in each category. Waste disposal shapes your behavior and tendencies in managing how each piece of waste is thrown away.
Garbage can help us understand human behavior in ways such as looking at the consumption and abandonment of specific materials. These practices can highlight individual priorities and routines. Our archaeology class participated in an activity that required students to monitor their trash for about a week to see and compare the most common artifacts found and what that meant about our behavior. For instance, when small, quick food packages are commonly found in one’s trash bin, this can be thought to represent college students and the food a student consumes given college students on campus do not live with multigenerational families. College students often do not cook for themselves and often grab small food packages to eat on-the-go. Garbology can be applied when analyzing artifacts found during excavation to better understand the different use of materials in the ‘60s and ‘70s and how material, labels, and dates found on these artifacts can be used to make connections with how each played a role in the lives of students.
We applied the study of garbage to the research we did at the Olin Farm. Our interviewees’ description of the house as isolated from student activity led us to believe that the garbage around the house came from before the 1970s due to the anonymity of the house during that time. This time period is supported by the kinds of artifacts that we found – mainly made of materials like glass, metal, and slag. Data from the 2005 study about solid waste management throughout Minnesota history conclude that, during the 60s and 70s, waste disposal shifted towards convenience, resulting in more plastic and paper products being thrown out. This study points to the most common practice of waste disposal throughout the majority of the 20th century of personal burn piles and middens. The lack of plastic and presence of more long lasting materials, along with the way that the trash was disposed of, suggests that the artifacts we found come from pre-70s eras (History of Solid Waste, 2005).
Although this does not reflect specifically about Carleton’s current methods in tracking trash disposal, recycling, and compost, additional understanding can be drawn from looking more in depth at Northfield’s disposal methods and categories in place now. The change in type of artifacts found at trash sites in this time period reflects a similar trend today with new recycling and composting methods. As values change today, waste disposal practices change. With the introduction and the enforcement of different waste management and processes in controlling the amount and type of wastes being disposed of, people’s behavior has notably changed in response to guidelines in waste disposal that have been set. Increased participation in recycling programs has occurred with more materials like paper and different plastics being able to be recycled. The amount of material present in trash has continued to grow given the rise in demand for manufactured goods. This is evident in the Carleton dining halls today as we place an emphasis on composting. With an emphasis on garbology and how waste disposal practices are viewed now, the waste disposal practices in place today have immensely changed from disposal practices from the 60s and 70s, as we can see by looking at trash material identified throughout the Olin Farm site. It is evident that a variety of bone, glass, metal, slag, etc. are found in the dump area of the Olin Farm site, thus displaying how waste was managed throughout the 1960s and 1970s and can be further examined to uncover the role of students in dining services at Carleton. This visual representation of artifacts found at the site demonstrates the lack of typical artifacts from the later parts of the 20th century, leading us to conclude that this site was used as a midden before the 1970s.
Figure 1: Prevalence of bone vs other material artifacts at the Olin Site as a whole
Figure 2: Prevalence of different artifact groups (not including bones)
A lot of the pottery sherds found at the site were parts of plates, bowls, cups, and other dishware. We also found silverware, including the parts of a knife and spoon seen in our display. Upon finding these artifacts, we thought the site was used as a dump for Carleton student dining materials. We began to investigate the dining habits and practices at Carleton in the 1900s, the time period we identified some of the artifacts to be from. Here, we attempt to recreate a typical Carleton dining set from the 60s-70s using artifacts from the Olin Farm site. This helped us imagine the importance of formal communal dining and living in Carleton’s history.
Diagram of what a potential formal place setting at Carleton for events such as Steak Night would look like. Includes artifacts found in both Spring 2022 and Fall 2022.
Community Archaeology Day display
A small sampling of the artifacts recovered at the Olin Farm
During Community Archaeology Day, we displayed the distribution of the garbage we found in a pie chart made from physical artifacts (pictured above). We excluded bones because these would have made up the majority of our pie chart and not allowed us to display other types of artifacts in an effective way. Community members and alumni who visited our display taught us a lot about the garbage we found with their own analysis. They told us stories about using similar artifacts in the past, their theories about where our artifacts came from, and their anecdotes from their own experiences at Carleton that helped to contextualize our findings. This experience highlighted the importance of community collaboration in archaeological research because these conversations enriched our understanding of our project.
Carleton College, Algol 1970 (Northfield, MN: 1970), Carleton College Archives, https://contentdm.carleton.edu/digital/collection/Algol/id/5172/rec/66, accessed on October 23, 2022, Algol Yearbook, 1970.
Carleton College, Algol 1975 (Northfield, MN: 1975), Carleton College Archives, https://contentdm.carleton.edu/digital/collection/Algol/id/5172/rec/66, accessed on October 23, 2022, Algol Yearbook, 1975.
Carleton College, Algol 1980 (Northfield, MN: 1980), Carleton College Archives, https://contentdm.carleton.edu/digital/collection/Algol/id/5172/rec/66, accessed on October 23, 2022, Algol Yearbook, 1980.
“Garbage.” Garbage | Northfield, MN – Official Website, https://www.northfieldmn.gov/1302/Garbage.
History of Solid Waste – Rice County, Minnesota. 2005, https://www.co.rice.mn.us/DocumentCenter/View/579/Minnesota-History-of-Solid-Waste?bidId=.
Jensen, Linne. Interview. 17 Oct. 2022.
Maxson, George-Ann. Zoom Interview. 27 Oct. 2022.
McKone, Mark. Interview. 4 Nov. 2022.
Neiman, Dave. Zoom Interview. 2022.