College joins field-to-fork revolution

A construction crew builds planter boxes at the Western Colorado Community College.

Students at Western Colorado Community College are going to have the opportunity to play in the dirt.

Instructors at the college recently completed building several raised-bed gardens, which they will use for the culinary arts and sustainable agriculture programs offered at the college.

The purpose of the program is to provide an opportunity for students in multiple disciplines to learn about urban gardening and where their food comes from, said Dan Kirby, director of the WCCC culinary department.

Students in the culinary program will cook the vegetables and herbs grown in the raised beds, as well as learn about what it takes on the farming end to get the food to the kitchen.

It’s a “field to fork” concept, Kirby said.

“We’ll expose our students to this initially so they can understand what farmers have to go through so they don’t just learn the kitchen side of things,” he said.

This project has been on their minds for several years, he said, and it’s been months in the making. The college spent the past couple months planning and getting the garden area prepared and completed the construction of the six beds Tuesday. They recently received the potting soil, and planting will occur soon so some vegetables will be growing when classes start Aug. 19.

It will be a two-season operation, said Bryan Reed, the instructor for the urban gardening class. The students plan to put up hoops created out of pipe and plastic to keep plants protected over the winter, Reed said. As the project continues they will rotate crops so they’ll have seasonal offerings year-round. “We’ll have fresher ingredients to use, and we can maybe grow some more specialty stuff,” said John Heideman, a non-traditional student enrolled in the culinary program who helped work on the project. 

The project will educate students in several different culinary classes. Students enrolled in the urban gardening class will plant and tend the garden, the food purchasing class will harvest it and the culinary class will cook it.

“We’re excited about it. So many different departments will use it,” Kirby said.

The goal is to be able to provide produce for the culinary department labs and Chez Lena restaurant and the CMU University Center kitchens. They will still have to do bulk orders as the culinary classes go through a lot of food products throughout the semester, but the gardens will provide them with fresh ingredients when they want them and they will be able to offer fresher products in the cafe, Kirby said.

The raised-bed garden project will be the first of many more projects that CMU and WCCC are planning in an effort to be more sustainable.

Working with CMU’s Sustainability Council, Kirby said students also plan to build a composting facility near the garden that would utilize food scraps from the culinary labs and the CMU dining areas.

They also plan to build a greenhouse and hope to expand the garden as the program continues.


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