New Student Education Garden launches after old plot lost to stadium

Julia Rentsch

Space will soon be available for students to learn to grow their own crops in an educational garden located south of campus off of Center Avenue, near the new Horticulture Center. This area will provide opportunities for students to work with faculty on agricultural research and to learn gardening skills.

Concerns about the dissipation and relocation of several CSU agricultural programs away from the site of the new on-campus stadium south of West Pitkin Street emerged several years ago after it was announced the stadium construction would require change. The new plot is not intended to directly replace the old student garden that once existed there, but aims to foster similar learning opportunities.

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Image courtesy of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
Image courtesy of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

According to Natalie Yoder, a Specialty Crops Program assistant in the Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture who will work closely with student gardeners, the garden will be divided into three sections: a farm-like demonstration area that’s open to volunteers, internship rows for students in the University’s Specialty Crops Program and a section for rotating plants like cover crops and pollinators. 

Alongside this area will be a community garden managed by the Aggie Village Apartments and a perennial demonstration garden for specialty crops, such as artichokes or asparagus. The areas are planned to be up and running by June.

Community members who are interested in getting experience with a variety of vegetables will be able to volunteer in the demonstration section of the student garden, where staff will teach volunteers how to plant, weed and harvest. Volunteers will get their first opportunity to help with transplanting seeds into the fields this May, and will get to take some vegetables home at the end of the season in exchange for their time. 

“(In the demo section) you’ll see something that will resemble a small farm, really mixed vegetables, you’ll see tomatoes, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, you’ll see a little bit of everything represented in that plot,” Yoder said.

Student interns will have their own section of the garden in which to grow one or two rows of a single crop of their choosing over the course of a summer. They will learn from Horticulture Department faculty everything about the growing process “from seed to sale,” Yoder said. 

Small Sensitive Plant seedlings being grown at Jordan's Floral Gardens located North of Vine on Taft Hill. At Jordan's Floral Gardens gardeners can purchase any of these tiny seedlings ready for transplant or purchase organic seed packs that have detailed planting instructions inside the package.
Small plant seedlings (Photo by Madison Brandt)

The experience will also involve obtaining organic certification, Yoder said, as the entire student education garden will be grown organically.

Before they grow their crop, student interns will set up a contract with campus dining services for the eventual sale of their final product.

“Dining Services are committed to purchasing product from us, and each individual dining hall is going to act as a different customer, so a student can interact with the different head chefs at each dining hall and determine which one is going to be the best fit for what they want to grow,” Yoder said.

Royce Lahman, the Residential Dining Services meal access coordinator, said they are excited about the opportunity to partner with the garden and come closer to the launch of a farm-to-table program at CSU.

The gardening area is located next to what used to be the site of the CSU Challenge Course, now located at the CSU Mountain Campus. The course’s fence will remain standing, as the area inside will now to be used for horticulture research.

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The future site of the student education garden, pictured in November 2015. Photo courtesy of Natalie Yoder.
The future site of the student education garden, pictured in November 2015, is located on a floodplain (Photo courtesy of Natalie Yoder).

It also happens to be located on a floodplain, Yoder said, which affects how much horticultural field research can be done in the area, especially on plants native to Colorado.

“We used to do a lot of trials on plants that do well in Colorado with our native water, but the water table in that floodplain is so high that if I did that trial down there, the data would be skewed,” Yoder said.

The only garden area not within the floodplain is a narrow strip that will be used for compost, which will be used in the student education garden. Additionally, it is planned that it will be used for experiments and demonstrations associated with a College of Agricultural Sciences class, SOCR 130 Composting Principles.

The windrow composting facility that is set to be built at the Foothills Campus would provide a large amount of compost for campus use, some of which would also go towards the student education garden, Yoder said.

Six student interns have already signed up for the internship program. 

“I’m stoked to be around a lot of people who are also stoked about gardening,” said Monica Dupler, a senior nutrition and food sciences major who plans to intern. “I just think food is so important , and we don’t always think about where our food comes from, or how much work and labor goes into the process.”

If this were a normal growing season, student interns would already have started to prepare for their field, but this is hindered by the fact that soil preparation and construction are still ongoing. The first yields from the garden are expected this year in late summer or early fall. 

CSU’s previous student-oriented garden was given to them by the University about 15 years ago, and was run by students who wanted to garden in ways that hadn’t yet gained much support from University faculty, such as organic agriculture. The new garden, however, will have more faculty support, in part because such interests now are better represented in the University itself.

“We might see that (student-run garden) again in the future, but we’re getting a lot of department and faculty support right now, so we’re running it as almost like a program within the Horticulture Department,” Yoder said. “I can’t say we’re replacing that garden, by starting the Student Education Garden, because it’s very different than it was … but in some ways, we hope that the people who were really interested in being a part of the garden before will continue to find this to be a great home for their interests.”

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @julia_rentsch.