Fifteen years ago, on the Western Colorado University campus, a professor caught a student digging up the soil by the Mountaineer Field House. The professor called the dean of the Clark Family School of Environment & Sustainability, thinking it had something to do with the program. Thus, the first student garden at Western was born.
“The students just wanted a growing space,” said Kate Clark, Assistant Professor of Environment & Sustainability. “That first student kind of kick-started things.”
The Expansion of Western’s Growing Spaces
Since then, four growing spaces have developed on the Western campus: the Chipeta Garden, the Pinnacles Forest Garden, the Pinnacles Greenhouse and a garden outside of Kelly Hall. All of the gardens on campus are run by the Western Organics Guild. The Organics Guild’s main mission is to provide students with experiential learning through regenerative gardening practices.
“I wanted to be a part of the actions towards solutions so we can learn to live with the environment instead of in against it,” said Destan Gerhard, Organics Guild mentor. “Currently, I think we see the environment as a resource to extract from. I don’t think that’s a sustainable method of living with the environment.”
A Hands-on Learning Experience with a Cause
On top of managing the gardens and members of the Organics Guild, Gerhard is in his first year of the Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program. He said while he’s excited to continue to work towards his degree, he loves the opportunity to give those in the Organics Guild a “fun and cool” learning experience.
While the Guild provides students with hands-on education, they also take pride in their mission of using the food they harvest to feed the student body. Along with hanging posters around campus to advertise their free food, the Guild brings their harvest to the local farmers market and gives it out for free to all Western students.
“We make all this food and we just don’t want to grow it and then turn it back into compost,” said Clark. “Getting the food into the student’s hands is really the ultimate goal.”
Creating a More Sustainable Campus
The Organics Guild is dedicated to providing students with the food and learning experience that comes with their gardens, but the club is intended to continue Western’s push towards a more sustainable campus.
“The sustainability aspect of the gardens is huge,” said Gerhard. “Western is making a huge push to be sustainable in a lot of different ways. We have a sustainability coordinator that’s part of the facilities management on top of the gardens.”
Clark said utilizing the campus gardens as a food source helps decrease the school’s “food miles” or the distance and amount of fossil fuels that food might use to travel to get to the school. Not only that, but Clark said this work builds meaningful connection between our bodies and the larger world.
“This is a way of opening up the window to better understand where the things we need come from, how we can regain the self-reliance in our lives,” said Clark.
What’s Ahead for Organics Guild
Western’s Organics Guild is hoping to expand their operations by adding a year-round greenhouse to the campus gardens. This will allow the Guild to continue their gardening through the harsh Gunnison Valley winters. To donate to the guild for the greenhouse or for their general operations, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Organics Guild club meets on Tuesdays at 4:30 pm in the Chipeta Garden. All are welcome.
Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Kate Wasson