ACRES Student Farm
1000 E. University Ave., Dept 3354
Laramie, WY 82071
The conception of ACRES began in the fall of 2006, when University of Wyoming Agroecology student Mary Huerter expressed interest in operating a student farm to fulfill internship requirements for her degree. ACRES became a reality after discussing the potential of a student farm with Dr. Rik Smith and several University of Wyoming students from the Department of Agroecology and the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. Students applied for several grants, and received approval from Dr. Stephen Miller to farm a 1.8 acre portion of land at the Agricultural Experiment Station. The students and Dr. Smith also designed a seminar course, Student Farm Assessment (PLNT 4790), which was first offered in the spring 2007 semester.
PLNT 4790 enrollment was approximately fifteen students and community members from diverse backgrounds. Publicity and support in both the university and community arenas raised awareness of the student farm project, and ACRES received grants and donations from local and national entities. ACRES received $1000 from the School of Environment and Natural Resources for a compost program and the Laramie Rivers Conservation District matched the funds. Ace Hardware and K-Mart donated tools and miscellaneous items and Windmill Hill Nursery donated hundreds of dollars worth of seeds and starter plants. In the spring with the help of the class, the farm site was prepared through minimal tillage and removal of a number of diseased pines. Seeds and starters were planted. In total one-third acre was farmed for onions, lettuce, kale, broccoli, and potatoes.
Student and community volunteers planted and tended crops throughout the summer of 2007. Watering was initially done through a broadcast method with water from the neighboring Agricultural Experiment Station's greenhouse. Eventually water meter and drip irrigation were installed to facilitate on-site conservative watering techniques. Furthermore, an experimental pipe system was installed to provide additional spigots and prevent pipe breakage in the winter. This experimental pipe has proved folly. Beginning in August, ACRES began selling produce weekly at the Laramie Farmers' Market. Produce sold out every week and volunteers often had to return to the farm for a second harvest.
PLNT 4790 was offered again in the fall semester of 2007. ACRES sold all of the remaining produce to the newly-established Big Hollow Food Co-op. Primary activities during the fall focused on the compost program. A series of seven bins constructed of alfalfa bales were used to provide protection and insulation for the compost decomposition process. Mid semester, ACRES began picking-up prep-waste from Washakie Cafeteria, The Grounds Coffee Shop, and, Altitude Brewery donated its spent barley which has proved a key component in the system. Late in the semester, ACRES also began collecting from the University of Wyoming Catering Services and Coal Creek Coffee House. All compost was picked up and hauled by student and community volunteers with personal pick-up trucks.
Officer elections were held during the spring semester of 2008, and the PLNT 4790 seminar was offered again. ACRES continued to expand its composting operation to include a total of nine businesses, and provided composting services for the Earth Day barbeque at the University of Wyoming. ACRES purchased a greenhouse with a $1000 grant from the Wal-Mart Corporation to extend the growing season. A larger cropping plan was developed, requiring a larger quantity and variety of seeds. Once again a majority of the seeds were donated. Fruit trees were purchased with grant funding from the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. ACRES hired their first AmeriCorps employee to assist with planting and volunteer recruitment.
ACRES rapidly expanded during the busy summer of 2008. The composting operation now included ten stops, and approximately 2,500 gallons of compost were being collected monthly. Student and community members constructed the greenhouse, and planted and tended the crops.
During the first half of the summer the crops were watered with the drip irrigation from the previous summer, but the system was only large enough to cover one-third of the field. The remaining two-thirds of the field were watered by the broadcast method. The first harvest was substantially earlier for the summer of 2008 then in 2007, and ACRES started selling produce at the Laramie Farmers' Market during the second week of July. The market was very successful for ACRES and sales increased by 103% from 2007. The revenue generated from market sales allowed ACRES to purchase drip irrigation to completely replace the less-efficient broadcast watering method.
ACRES started closely tracking produce quantities, harvest locations, weight, and cost, in order to track the productivity of the farm. ACRES also started experimenting with crop planting techniques, and recorded the results in a field guide. There was an increase in the number of large volunteer groups on the premises of the farm. Student groups began volunteering. The first two student groups to volunteer at ACRES were from first-year Resident Assistants and UW law students.
During the fall of 2008 the PLNT 4790 seminar course was offered for its fourth semester, and the AmeriCorps employee was rehired to recruit volunteers. ACRES continued to sell produce at the Laramie Farmers' Market until September, and harvested the remaining produce to donate to the Laramie Soup Kitchen. ACRES members harvested and delivered 30 pounds of tomatoes, 37 pounds of kale, 5 pounds of collard greens, 2 pounds of sorrel, and 52 heads of cabbage. The Laramie Soup Kitchen staff incorporated a majority of the items into their daily meals, and preserved the excess by freezing and canning.
ACRES also worked on expanding involvement with sustainable agricultural projects in the community and classroom. ACRES started working closely with other recognized student organizations that focus on sustainability issues on campus, specifically ACRES associates with Students for Sustainability and the Student Sustainability Council. ACRES also started assisting programs to encourage children to participate in sustainable agriculture. ACRES began working with the Laramie River's Conservation Education Program with their greenhouse and outdoor garden, and with the University of Wyoming Early Care and Education Center to begin composting their food waste and assisting the facility with constructing a gardening program.
Officer elections were held again at the start of 2009. ACRES continues to participate in community outreach programs such as the Laramie River's Conservation Education Program, and is assisting the University of Wyoming Early Care and Education Center with their garden plans. ACRES has also started presenting information at educational conferences including prestigious events like the Local Foods Movement, Rocky Mountain Sustainability Summit, and Sustainable Business Practices Forum.
ACRES continues to focus on composting operations, and it is estimated that 50,000 gallons of compost are being picked up by student and community members annually. The compost is stored and maintained on the farm site, and it is used to cover the fields when the compost cycle has reached completion. ACRES is in the preliminary stages of assessing a biodiesel project and determining a cost and benefit analysis for the project. ACRES is also in the process of applying for grant funding to purchase a truck/trailer to increase the volume of compost collected and transported to the ACRES farm.
Additional plans for 2009-2010 include the development of a more efficient cropping plan, and the construction of an energy-efficient storage structure and harvesting station. The harvesting station project is being funded by a grant from the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming (ASUW), and it is being designed by faculty and students from the College of Engineering at the University of Wyoming and Laramie Community College. The structure will meet LEED standards, as required by University of Wyoming regulations. The structure is scheduled for completion in summer of 2010.
Ultimately, ACRES aspires to provide a four-season growing facility that is cooled and heated with renewable energy technology. ACRES is convinced the project will assist a significant proportion of the student population who want to learn about, engage in, and contribute to the sustainable objectives of the University of Wyoming.
ACRES continued developing our community outreach by participating in the Laramie Rivers Conservation District Sustainable Living Expo and the second annual Laramie Local Foods Gathering In the summer of 2010, ACRES' hoophouse played host to two vertical hydroponics projects. The success of this project was varied, but because of the way ACRES farm is irrigated, the vertical hydroponic towers might have a better success ratio in the future.
The summer of 2010 brought pests to the ACRES hoophouse, and as a result, our basil, tomato and zucchini squash crops took a hard hit. The farm has since been researching environmentally sound and sustainable methods of pest control. ACRES also began construction of the energy-efficient storage and harvesting station. By the end of 2010, the base was completely set, complete with pipes to heat the structure using only hot water, which will be heated by a generator. Construction is slated to be finished in the summer of 2011.
ACRES also started a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program in the summer. Six people bought six full shares of ACRES' produce for 12 weeks, and enjoyed a wide variety of vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, shallots and fingerling potatoes. Near the end of the summer, the variety of produce was less varied, so ACRES has resolved to diversify crops and planting times as much as possible next year. Overall, the program was a success, and will continue in 2011, when half-shares will also be offered.
ACRES enjoyed another year of selling produce at the Farmers' Market, hosting volunteer and tour groups from the Agriculture Department, Youth Ambassadors, the UW Lab School and Big Brothers Big Sisters, to name a few. We also expanded our relationship with the Dining Center, and sold a wider variety of produce to them.
This year, ACRES said goodbye to some longtime members, but looks forward to new ones in the years to come.
Officer elections were held in February, and the position of Community Development Officer was added to increase visibility in the Laramie community and on the UW campus. ACRES attended the Laramie Rivers Conservation District Sustainable Living Expo and the Laramie Local Foods Gathering once again, and many members received scholarships to attend the 5th annual Farmers' Market Association Conference in Laramie, where they attended workshops on high tunnel solar heating, business management and local foods movements, among many others.
ACRES decided to continue and expand the CSA program to include 11 half shares and 3 full shares. A customer satisfaction survey conducted at the end of the season showed a very high satisfaction rate with the CSA program as well as with ACRES in general. ACRES also participated in seven of the 14 Laramie farmers’ markets, expanding the variety of products sold to include bumper stickers, t-shirts and aquaponiclly grown greens and herbs (provided by Nate Storey). The farm also expanded in the field of undergraduate research, as Erin Anders conducted research on tomato plants and Daniel Blaney experimented with the intercropping of elm oyster mushrooms with various other plants. Both projects were successful, as ACRES benefited from a bumper crop of tomatoes as well as a larger-than-expected mushroom yield. The compost operation was also moved from the southern fields to the North field with the idea that after a prolonged period of time, the compost would burn off the weeds as well as leech into the soil and thus amend it. The former location of the compost piles was tilled and planted and subsequently produced virtually weed-free crops as well as a bounty of volunteer melons. Compost was also sold for the first time ever, and ACRES had a difficult time keeping up with the large demand from within the Laramie community.
The completion of the bicycle-powered salad spinner not only greatly decreased harvest time, but it also earned ACRES a front page article in the Laramie Boomerang. The solar powered harvest facility was completed in August and the interior was completely insulated in October/November. This facility will provide ACRES with a much needed storage/meeting facility that will also function as a space in which seedlings can be started in the spring.
Another great benefit came to ACRES in the form of a grant to build 5 high tunnels on the farm property. Each tunnel will have different properties regarding materials and insulation, and they will be monitored by the USDA and studied as models for ideal high tunnels in Wyoming. The tunnels are scheduled to be built in the early spring of 2012.
ACRES decided to change the date for officer elections from February to November. Officers elected in November will be “officers elect” and will undergo a “training period” until February, when they will take office and assume their full duties. Therefore, elections for the 2011-2012 season were held on November 2nd, and the position of Community Development Officer was removed from the listing. ACRES also decided to better organize itself with the addition of six committees: the farm committee, the events committee, the projects committee, the compost committee, the marketing committee, and the grants committee.
The 2011 summer growing season was perhaps ACRES’s most successful season yet, as the farm netted over 250 hours of volunteer labor from over 40 different volunteers. ACRES also expanded both crop production and membership and is beginning to be recognized on many higher levels, not only as an important entity of the University of Wyoming, but also as a front-runner in the field of sustainable agriculture.