I have arrived in beautiful Northfield, MN (motto: “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.” I expect a placid audience for my talk tonight). My first impression, right after passing St Olaf College, was an odd one: what is that strange chocolatey aroma I’m smelling everywhere? Shortly afterwards I came upon a gigantic Malt-O-Meal plant, and all was explained. I guess smelling like Malt-O-Meal isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a college town, although there is one better: the UO campus at Eugene used to occasionally smell intensely of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, thanks to a bakery down the street from it.

I have to mention one of the unfortunate things about Morris. It used to occasionally reek like yeasty sour beer, from the ethanol plant on the edge of town. They seem to have cleaned up their act in the last few years, and we rarely get that odor anymore. There were a few days this summer, though, where the wind was just right and we got treated to the stink of the local pig farms, which is not at all pleasant.

I think I’ll take the scent of breakfast cereal any day.


  1. says

    If you get a chance there’s a local sub and sandwich shop in downtown Northfield…something “Brothers” I think…ah hell, I’ll google it…

    Hogan Brothers 415 Division St S

    I always find their subs very tasty and they serve beer also…

  2. Moopheus says

    Heh. Parts of Cambridge (MA) used to have a chocolatey/sugary smell from the Necco and Borden candy factories, but sadly those facilities have in recent years been converted to other, less smelly, uses.

  3. Gobaskof says

    Yeasty sour beer, doesn’t smell as bad a chip fat does, even 6 miles away from the Kettle Chips factory you can smell it!

  4. says

    I used to teach in a small town that had a rendering plant and dog food plant. Nasty!

    Breakfast cereal seems altogether pleasant in comparison.

  5. says

    Guess you won’t go a bit further downstream to pretty Red Wing, my old hometown, I helped on an arch. dig to locate the original Hamline Univ. there. I think Gustavus Adolphus also started in Red Wing, during about the civil war they both moved to the Cities.

    The tannery that supplied leather to Red Wing Shoe used to put out an awful stench, but they cleaned it up. Here in Eureka CA, sea breezes ain’t bad at all. I had a nice 45 mile walk down from Brookings, OR, back in July, visited the Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City.

  6. Diane says

    The University of Illinois-Chicago campus smells like chocolate on overcast days, thanks to the Blommer candy factory up the road. It’s really rather nice.

    I passed through Northfield this summer and thought the area was some of the prettiest I’ve ever driven through. Did some fieldwork down at Nerstrand State Park, also worth a visit.

  7. James Stein says

    I spent a week and a half at an extended medical forum at Villanova U. one summer; the entire campus had a pall of semen. My roommate informed me that corn fields smell like this, too, and it’s likely due to a related plant.

  8. Lynn David says

    Indiana State University… well the whole central, south and western sides of Terre Haute, Indiana, used to smell like frozen fish sticks that had been setting out too long without cooking. Though others thought the smell was worse. I think the paper mill that was responsible got cited by the EPA and they cleaned it up… then the paper mill closed down.

  9. allium says

    Gilroy, California – home of an enormous garlic processing plant (garlic salt, dried garlic flakes, etc.). During the winter if there’s an atmospheric high parked over the area the odor can drift thirty miles north to San Jose.

    I think it’s a good thing, but your mileage may vary.

  10. QrazyQat says

    Northfield’s motto ought to be “The town that kicked Jesse James’ butt outa here!”.

  11. Sarah says

    To Allium: I KNEW it! I could swear there were days back in San Jo’ when the air smelled like garlic. Come to think of it, they all did seem to be overcast, or at least chilly. But that doesn’t bother me now so much as the “Sonoma Aroma”.

  12. David Harmon says

    Moopheus @#2: Heh indeed! I remember the Necco factory! Way back before blogs, I once posted to a mailing list my recounting of the various smells encountered bicycling just the length of Central Square, culminating with that factory’s mint & sugar smell.

  13. seepeesate says

    The bakery by the University of Oregon campus produced a truly delightful array of aromas. I’d often leave the lab just to sample the air.

    Alas, the plant was forced (by the DEQ or EPA, I forget which) to clean up their emissions and there are no more yummy smells around campus.

  14. jeffox backtrollin' says

    Quoteth QrazyQat, “Northfield’s motto ought to be “The town that kicked Jesse James’ butt outa here!”.”

    I was beaten to the punch line by only a few posts. :) Don’t rob the local bank, Dr. Myers. :)

    IMHO, the worst smelling towns are refinery towns. Drive through Billings, MT, some time to see what I mean.

    Rochester, MN could get pretty bad-smelling when the local farmers spread manure upwind of downtown.

    OK, there was my 6c worth. :)

  15. Dave says

    college visits for my daughter led us to Coe College in Iowa. We arrived while the local cereal plant was making Cap’n Cruch with Crunch Berries. Wow. What a smell. She ended up at Morris. Due to the quality of the Language department, not because of the smells. Or lack thereof.

  16. Graculus says

    It’s not good for your diet to be across the roade from a cookie factory.

    Just saying….

  17. says

    When I went to Waterloo, the downtown was bathed alternately in the mash smell of a whiskey distillery and the smell of a brewery. It wasn’t perfume, but I could get used to it. Certainly not as bad as a pig farm or a glue factory.

    If you can smell the chip factory, they probably need to beef up their precipitators and air filters.

  18. bacopa says

    I’d take a cereal mill or a rendering plant over a paper mill. You cant drive the minor highways from Maryland to east Texas without encountering paper mills. Paper or plastic? I always ask for plastic. The billowing dar Satanic mills of the Houston Ship Channel don’t smell as bad as a paper plant.

    The University of Houston is often bathed with a burning sugar smell. It comes from the coffee bean roaster just up Scott street. Just five years ago it was owned by raft and had a giant Maxwell House neon sign. Now it’s owned by a company that makes grocery store house brands and the neon sign is gone. The last bastion of our neon heritage is lost, now that the giant Holder’s Pest Control cockroach was removed for the Westpark transit center.

    I talked to a guy fron Holder’s and he said they have the neon sign in storage. We should put it up by the big airport as a cultural monument and to let newcmers know what they’re getting in to.

    By “big airport” I mean IAH, Houston Intercontinental, recently renamed as Bush Intercontinental (after HW, not W). No old timey local will call it Bush airport, it’s just “the big airport” to distinguish it from Hobby (third largest in TX) which is known as “the small airport”.

  19. JohnnieCanuck, FCD says

    On many a winter’s day in Richmond, BC in the ’60s, the wind would be from the southwest, blowing the plume from the Steveston herring reduction plant right over head. Mom would only be able to put off the laundry for so long and then hoo boy!

    The pulp mills only ever got us when there was an Arctic air mass outflow, coming down Howe Sound.

    It was all the beehive burners along the Fraser that used to belch so much particulate pollution and made the area famous for its black fogs.

    You know, I never did figure out why farmers would leave cabbage to rot in the fields through the winter. Is that how sauerkraut is made?

    Isn’t it amazing how the sense of smell is so evocative?

  20. minimalist says

    Oh dammit, I skip your blog for a day and you’ve gone to my alma mater.

    I’d be very interested to hear about any exchanges you might have had with Dr. C, who taught developmental bio — he also ran a course on reconciling science and faith (or some such) while I was there. I never took it, but we had some discussions and he showed me one of the books he used: full of credulous newage nonsense. It took Uri Geller seriously, for Pete’s sake! He was noticeably abashed by it, and I always wondered why it didn’t lead him to question the author’s entire line of reasoning. I was raised to be polite to authority, and he was a nice guy, good teacher and good scientist, so I didn’t press him too hard.

  21. says

    Northfield is perhaps my favourite Minnesota town, not least because it was the only place you could get a decent pint (at the contented cow) then pop round the corner for a curry made by people who know that ketchup isn’t a spice. It’s just a shame that the route in from the Twin Cities takes you through a wasteland of Burger King and Toxic Hell just before Main Street.

    On smells… I used to live in Burton on Trent, home at the time of both several major breweries and the makers of Marmite. The smell could get rather noticeable at times.

    Ooh, ooh semen… I also lived in a town called Belper that had some trees that gave off the smell of ejaculate each year. We referred to them as The Sperm Trees of Belper (from The Flame Trees of Thika for those who were spared at the time).

  22. says

    Just be glad the wind was blowing in the right direction. (Northfield’s actually their main plant, and the address listed on the back of most Malt-O-Meal cereal is in Northfield)

    I graduated Carleton a bit over 10 years ago, and some days the wind would blow such that the campus was bathed in the aroma of the large turkey farm just outside of town. Turkey farm days were unpleasant.

  23. says

    I also second the recommendation of Hogan Brothers as a wonderful lunch spot (though it may be too late at this point). Grundy’s fried cheese curds are also another local food wonder.

  24. JP says

    Univ. of IL at Urbana-Champaign would often get the smell of the south research farms on hot summer days. Nothing like the smell of manure to really make 90degF appealing.

    Also, Decatur, IL is home to ADM and A. E. Staley, and the smell of your food being mass-processed is not pleasant.

  25. howard hershey says

    When I went to U.W., we could smell the lard rendering going on at the Oscar Myer plant in Madison, Wisc. when the wind was right. They later added a very heavy artificial lilac perfume to disguise the odor. Actually you wound up with a sniff of lilac followed by lard followed by lilac…

    Reminds me of the times we would go to the plant to collect 100 gallons of fresh beef blood to make serum to grow cells in. Very interesting to ride the campus bus with your lower pants legs and shoes soaked in blood. I had no problem finding a seat all by myself on those days.

  26. prismatic, so prismatic says

    In Lexington, Kentucky, we had *the* factory for Jif peanut butter, and overnight in clear weather the whole east side of town smelled great–although to me the smell was usually more like popcorn than peanuts. (I have lots of allergies so my receptors may be off.)

    However, up on campus, there was an area near Bowman Hall on Rose Street with some sort of tree (ginkgos? I don’t know trees) whose leaves smelled awful for about two weeks every autumn when they hit the ground and started to rot–much like dead fish. I was reminded of this when I lived in Hanoi for a while, near a fish sauce manufacturing plant. The smell of the fish sauce perfused the whole neighborhood during selected times of the week, and… let’s just say it’s just about opposite from the problem James Stein describes in #8.


  27. natural cynic says

    The smell of downtown Durham [thankfully] hardly ever reached to where I worked at Duke, but the smell of the melange of tobacco and all of the stuff that was added to ciggarettes was really something. Molassses, licorice and god knows what else. But it did smell better than the smoke from he product.

  28. says

    Places I have lived and their smells:

    York: melted chocolate, polo mints, sugarbeet (my favourite – a smoky, sweet smell). People who grew up there loved it, newcomers hated it.

    Newcastle: beer. Mmm, it’s great having breweries in the middle of an urban area.

    Glasgow: it rained too much to smell of anything.

    Vancouver: in the right places, it smells of the sea. In the wrong places, it smells of gross chicken rendering plants (we think). Recently, it’s smelled of garbage, but thank f*** the strike just ended.

  29. Dustin says

    the UO campus at Eugene used to occasionally smell intensely of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, thanks to a bakery down the street from it.

    Yeah, those cinnamon rolls probably weren’t the only things that were freshly baked. Actually, I’m amazed you could smell them at all.

  30. mandrake says

    the UO campus at Eugene used to occasionally smell intensely of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, thanks to a bakery down the street from it.

    Having been to Eugene, I cracked up when I read this. Frith, the stoners there must have weighed 300 pounds. How could someone with the munchies possibly resist fresh-baked cinnamon rolls?

  31. miz_geek says

    Awww, I miss the Malt-o-Meal smell of Northfield (and Grundy’s cheese curds). Hope you had a good time at the school across the river.

    My sister went to school in Beloit, Wisconsin, home of a Frito Lay plant that produced the notorious “cheese breeze”. The popcorny smell of malt-o-meal is much nicer.