UW students raise vegetables for farmer's market

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LARAMIE, Wyo. - If you happened to purchase Swiss chard, sweet basil, turnips, radishes, broccoli, chives or snow peas from the University of Wyoming ACRES student farm at the Laramie Farmer's Market, the food you got traveled about three miles from farm to market.

The small student-run farm sits at the corner of 30th and Harney, and this time of year, the harvest is in full swing.

Volunteers spent a recent Friday morning harvesting their produce for the market, working up and down the rows of neon-green lettuce, darker-hued broccoli and red-ribbed chard. The smell of onions and chives mixed with the scent of compost. Inside the hoop house — a toasty sauna beneath the late-morning sun — grew strawberries, tomatoes and okra, among dozens of other crops.

"Last year, we definitely had a lot more crops planted, but this year we're planting smarter," UW senior Lyndsy Soltau said.

Jessica Nape and Claire Fairley spent part of the morning harvesting chard. Each with a five-gallon bucket filled with ice water at their side, they stooped and squatted to cut the outer leaves of the hardy greens.

Nape, an AmeriCorps volunteer working for the farm this summer, said chard is a great vegetable to grow here.

"It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, and it just grows all summer," she said, pointing to the inner leaves that will keep producing as the larger outer ones are torn away.

When they filled their buckets, they took them to a nearby canopy tent, beneath which more volunteers stood to clean and bag the vegetables before putting them into a half-dozen ice-filled coolers that they would take to the Farmer's Market in the afternoon.

Started in 2007, the student farm has grown each year, said Soltau.

"I think this is the biggest turnout we've had for volunteers and getting new members. The word's been getting out," she said.

Volunteers are welcome on Fridays and Saturdays to help weed and harvest. Students sell their produce at the farmer's market and donate 10 percent each week to the Laramie Soup Kitchen on their way downtown.

UW senior Michael Baldwin said one goal of the farm is to demonstrate what can be grown in the Laramie Valley while practicing sustainable farming techniques. He said they've planted about 30 different crops since starting.

So what does well around here? Ask and they'll start rattling off plants by the dozens.

Lettuce, chard, kale, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, broccoli, beets, collards, snow peas, cabbages, carrots and squash, for starters.

Inside the sheltered hoop house, the students are sowing plants that have a longer growing season and need more heat.

"If we're lucky in the Laramie Valley, we get 90 days," Baldwin said of Laramie's growing season.

Lining the hoop house are rows of wildflowers, designed to attract a variety of insects for pollination and keeping pests down.

"We don't use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides," Baldwin said. In fact, even the bags they sell their produce in will biodegrade in a few months.

The farm's compost pile is growing, and eventually the students plan to sell their excess supply. All the money the farm brings in is used for purchasing supplies and expanding the effort.

Back at the bagging station, UW student Betsy Mock tore off a piece of chard to offer a guest as she bagged and weighed it.

"Grazing is one of the best parts," she said.


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