Western’s Organics Guild Growing Produce in a Cold Place

A new student group at Western State Colorado University is working to bring locally produced vegetables and increased food security to the Gunnison Valley.

At 7,700 feet, Gunnison's winters can be harsh and difficult for growers. The valley harbors a growing season that hovers around 60 days – barely enough time to see a tomato plant grow and fruit. This short window and the associated challenges of the climate can make it difficult for regional farmers and ranchers to provide the variety and quality of food local residents have come to expect.

By using greenhouses and specifically tailored growing techniques, students in Western's newly formed Organics Guild are working to lengthen the growing season, reduce emissions, and provide healthy, locally produced fruits and vegetables to the community.

“In the Environmental Studies program we’ve been taught about the problems we face as a global society,” said Kyle Brookens, a senior and one of the driving forces behind the Organics Guild. “Growing and producing food locally for use right here on campus and in the community is one step we can take to creating a more sustainable future.” 

The Organics Guild is currently working with Sodexo, the provider of Western’s Dining Services, to try and bring produce grown by the club into campus food plans and cafes.

“Our goal is to expand our growing area on campus, and increase the availability of healthy food options with low carbon footprints to students and faculty,” said Brookens. “But we want to do it right. We’re researching U.S. Department of Agriculture safety guidelines and learning about Food and Drug Administration requirements.”

The Organics Guild is based out of the Pinnacles Greenhouse, in Western's newest housing facility, where students from the group are growing a range of produce and ornamental plants. Other growing space on campus includes a recently constructed hoop house – a 20- by 40-foot temporary greenhouse behind student housing.

Funding for the Organics Guild and its projects is part of a $28,000 grant provided by Western's Sustainability Fund to promote and expand agriculture on campus. “The Guild has received an incredible amount of support from campus and the Gunnison community,” said Brookens, who was the Environmental Studies garden intern in 2012. "The Mountain Roots Food Project in Gunnison is working with us, offering internships and opportunities to become more involved in issues surrounding food security and sustainable production.”

For more information about the Organics Guild, contact Kyle Brookens at kyle.brookens@western.edu.

To learn more about Western's Environmental Studies program, click here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 8:45am