UCCS Farm provides produce, education to students

November 14, 2017

Quinita Thomas

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    Since 2013, the UCCS Farm has produced fresh food daily for Dining and Hospitality Services.

    Part of the UCCS Greenhouse, the farm is located on the eastern edge of campus at 14 Cragmoor Village Rd. The farm grows crops, which include 10 varieties of tomatoes, basil, cilantro, kale and Bok Choi, and herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano, among many others.

     According to the UCCS Farm website, the farm has provided four and a half tons of food since its conception. The farm provides educational opportunities to students and the campus community, according to Susan Szpyrka, senior vice chancellor for Administration and Finance.

    Szpyrka thinks students should be more aware of where their food came from and how it got there. For example, when consuming animal products such as chicken or beef, she believes students should take into consideration what the animal’s living conditions were like.

      “Most of us do not know where our food comes from. A hundred years ago, people knew. We’ve lost that connection in the era of mass production,” she said.

    “Try to the greatest extent possible to understand where your food came from. Remember the connection between the land, the elements and the hard work it takes to produce food.”

    Szpyrka was involved in the farm from the beginning and is an active listener to what students and faculty wanted. She also listened to advocates for growing local and/or organic food, and serving.

    “When UCCS converted in 2014 from a contract managed food service to a university-operated business, we were able to more fully integrate the practice into the kitchens,” Szpyrka said.

    According to Kelly Jennings, manager of the farm, there are four components to growing their crops.

    In order to make organic compost, there must be a balance of water, carbon, nitrogen and air. The compost must be maintained by air-raiding it and keeping it watered. Within a couple months, there will be finished compost that can be used as an organic fertilizer for their crops, she said.

    According to Szpyrka, not all soils are conducive for growing crops. The soil must be organic, meaning no chemicals and everything used to fertilize the soil is either plants or compost material.

 Now that winter is around the corner, Jennings explained that the farm employees have to make sure that the crops last throughout the winter.

    “We cover our crops with materials called roe cover and frost blankets. We cover the beds with straw, make sure things are well hydrated, and that all the irrigation is shut off. We put the farm to bed by November,” she said.

    The farm does not use chemicals on the crops due to pest control. Instead, they spread their crops out in various beds, so that the plant population is more diverse.

    “Ladybugs are good to keep the pests down,” said Szpyrka. “Marigolds are good to plant among vegetables that you’re growing, since they attract pollinating bugs as well as ladybugs. Having a diverse plant population prevents you from having to use pesticides.”

    While the farm works with Grounds Maintenance to collect leaves to add to compost, Jennings explains that a majority of the compost comes from the residential dining halls.

    “We get pre-consumer scraps from the kitchen side. We have bins in the kitchen so staff can toss in their compost waste such as peels and rotten vegetables,” she said. “We get those weekly and bring them out here, for compost.”  

    Students also have the opportunity to get involved with the farm. Food Next Door, a graduate student program that uses produce from the farm to make dishes for students, faculty and staff.

    Students who are interested in volunteering with the UCCS Farm can visit uccs.edu/farm/for-volunteers.html.