UW's ACRES Student Farm
Fresh. Local. Healthy.
There aren’t any better words to describe the food that’s grown at the University of Wyoming’s ACRES Student Farm and then distributed, donated or sold around Laramie.
There also isn’t any better food to eat.
“Student farms such as ACRES provide myriad benefits, including experiential learning for university students, research opportunities and fresh, healthy, local foods,” says Christine Porter, a UW assistant professor who leads a $5 million, multi-state project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to build community food systems. “Fruits and vegetables from ACRES are among the freshest possible in Laramie -- with no transport costs, no pesticide or herbicide residues and all at a price subsidized by student labor and investments in university infrastructure.”
Conceived in 2006, when UW agroecology student Mary Huerter expressed interest in operating a student farm to fulfill internship requirements for her degree, ACRES has evolved into a strong supporter of local agriculture and sustainability and a hub for educational and research opportunities for the UW and Laramie communities.
The fruits -- and vegetables -- of the students’ labor are for sale each week during the summer at the Laramie Local Community (LoCo) Market on Thursdays in Undine Park or the Laramie Farmers’ Market on Fridays in the downtown.
ACRES also offers a community-supported agriculture program through which people can buy a share or half-share of farm produce for 12 weeks in the summer.
“We grow lots of green stuff,” says Ben Johnson, student manager of the 1.8-acre farm located at the corner of 30th and Harney streets, west of the UW Agricultural Experiment Station. “Spinach, cabbage, kale and radishes are what’s popping up out of the ground now. But peas and strawberries are coming up pretty quick.”
Broccoli, onions, peppers, squash, tomatoes and zucchini are on the way, too. Maybe even mushrooms. And pumpkins are in the ground for the fall.
“We try to grow a little bit of everything,” says Johnson
In addition to selling crops, ACRES provides salad greens to the university as part of a partnership with Residence Life and Dining Services, and donates at least 10 percent of its produce to the Laramie Soup Kitchen to help support UW’s outreach efforts.
Food production at the student farm should only continue to grow.
Five new hoop houses, or unheated greenhouses, were constructed in May in partnership with the UW Extension Service -- Milton Geiger and Jeff Edwards were heavily involved in the project -- and with grant funding from the USDA. The hoop houses will allow ACRES to extend its growing season, even into the winter months, and strengthen its ability to produce crops that are sometimes difficult to grow at elevation, including tomatoes and peppers.
“That is a pretty big improvement on the farm,” says Johnson, a second-year master’s student in science education and environment and natural resources.
As part of the farm’s sustainability efforts, UW students collect vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, stale bread and coffee grounds from several Laramie restaurants twice a week for composting. The compost is later used to improve soil at the farm and sold to locals who are seeking to improve their own gardens.
While Johnson says ACRES provides a wonderful opportunity for UW students to “get out from behind the computer and get our hands in the dirt,” he says the farm is open to all. There is a weekly volunteer time on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
“Anyone is more than welcome!” he says.
A recognized student organization, ACRES is sponsored by the UW Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Division of Student Affairs, Office of the President, the UW Foundation, the Associated Students of UW, Woolf’s Greenhouse, The Knothole and Walmart.