University of Wyoming students can sometimes be cut off from the wider Laramie community, but one student-run group is bringing people together in the ongoing effort to support local agriculture.
Agricultural Community Resources for Everyday Sustainability — commonly known as ACRES — runs a student farm that works with, supports and is supported by various groups throughout the community.
These groups include Feeding Laramie Valley, the Downtown Laramie Farmer’s Market and community-supported agriculture sharers, said Alanna Elder, president of the ACRES Student Farm Recognized Student Organization.
“ACRES has been a part of this really great movement in Laramie around gardening and proving that we can grow things locally here, and then also supporting a pretty thriving local food movement.” Elder said. “It’s cool that this culture around local food has been thriving.”
UW students and members of the Laramie community are welcome to experience ACRES for themselves as the farm hosts Open Gate Day from noon-4p.m. today.
The event features presentations by local organizations and companies — such as Bright Agrotech, the High Plains Seed Library and High Plains Biochar — as well as demonstrations by experts on a wide range of topics, including worms, insects and sustainable practices.
The event also includes bihourly farm tours and a potluck with snacks made from food grown by the students.
Mostly volunteer students manage and run the 1.8 acres, selling the produce grown there to support paid internships that keep the farm running throughout the summer. Part RSO, part small business, the ACRES farm is geared toward teaching students and members of the community about sustainable agriculture.
“A lot of them are learning from scratch or they have prior experience that they would like to share with other students as a club member,” said Urszula Norton, the RSO’s faculty adviser. “There is a whole plethora of classes that have tours on the farm and they have learning, hands-on experiences.”
Norton said she brings her Agriculture 1000 class — that’s 54 students this semester — out to the farm to teach them about agroecology.
“We’re teaching them different aspects of local food production,” Norton said. “And then there’s a hands-on activity when they learn, for example, how to harvest produce.”
ACRES also welcomes classes from elementary, junior high and high schools, as well as lab schools.
In addition to education and experiential learning, ACRES is fertile ground for research conducted by UW’s College of Agriculture and the state’s Department of Agriculture. Much of this research focuses on specialty crops and figuring out which varieties or growing methods are best for Laramie’s unique high-altitude environment.
In the past, ACRES hosted experiments with edible mushrooms and strawberries. Professor Chris Hilgert of the Department of Plant Sciences, who ran the strawberry experiment, is beginning to grow different varieties of apple trees.
“(Hilgert) has a couple different varieties of apple trees, and he’s going to find out which grows better in Laramie, whether any of them can grow and how to do that, how to make that work,” Elder said. “And then that information will be available for people who might want to grow apple trees.”
Norton received a few specialty crop grants from the state’s Department of Agriculture, Elder said, including one that will help her grow hops — the flowers that usually give beer its distinctive flavor.
“If someone is farming, and they want to try something new, but they don’t want to lose all this money, then that kind of grant can be a pretty good option,” Elder said.
ACRES also allows a handful of students to try their hand at gardening through its Adopt-A-Plot program, Norton said.
“There are little plots set aside as community gardens for individual students who sign up and volunteer and express interest of growing their own vegetables on their own,” she said. “There’s about ten plots over there where students pretty much learn from scratch how to grow.”
Many students — such as outgoing farm manager Hannah Dunn — first explored the world of gardening and agriculture through ACRES.
“I’m not from an ag background, and when I came to UW, I found ACRES, and it helped me figure out that I wanted to study agroecology,” Dunn said. “And I learned so much during my time there as an officer and also as an intern.”
Open Gate Day runs noon-4 p.m. today at ACRES Student Farm, which is located just west of the UW Agriculture Experiment Station on the corner of 30th and Harney Streets. The event is free to the public.
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