When students learn, everyone benefits. And at Fort Lewis College, those benefits can be found every Thursday from spring to fall under the Clocktower in the center of campus. That's when students who have been studying and practicing organic growing techniques bring the fruits -- and vegetables and meats -- of their labor to campus for sale at the open-air Old Fort Farm Stand.
The foods are grown and raised at the Old Fort, the site of Fort Lewis College before it moved to Durango in 1956. The property 15 miles west of Durango was home to the original military Fort Lewis and an Indian boarding school, before becoming state property and the home of the school that eventually grew into Fort Lewis College.
Today, one of the uses of the Old Fort is as a place where students can get their hands dirty learning first-hand about organic farming and animal raising, food production, and agricultural business management. The farm facility includes a market garden and three green houses for year-round growing. Students also raise pigs and manage a 40-cow herd of beef cattle, all with organic, antibiotic-free practices.
This year's crops include:
acorn squash - arugula - basil - beets
broccoli - butternut squash
cabbage (red and green) - carrots - chard
chives - cilantro - dill - eggplant
flat leaf parsley - garlic
beans (green, yellow and purple) - kale - leeks onions (red, white and yellow) - oregano pattypan squash - peppers (bell, anaheim, pablano and lots of hot ones) - pumpkins
sage - snow peas - sweet corn
tomatoes (cherry and paste) - zucchini.
The farmers are students with a commitment to sustainable food production, and they come from a wide variety of majors, including Environmental Studies, Accounting, and Teacher Education.
"The students are involved with all phases of planning, production, and marketing," explains Biology instructor Beth LaShell, who also coordinates work at the Old Fort. "They begin their involvement with crop planning and field preparation in early spring, and they are responsible for planting, weeding, irrigating, harvesting, processing, and marketing of product."
In the fall, the project also incorporates students from the Exercise Science Department's Human Nutrition course to assist with the production of value-added products such as relishes, breads, soups, salsas, tamales, lard, and pesto made from Old Fort products. All products are prepared in a commercial kitchen according to food safety regulations.
"The students are also responsible for farm stand preparation and management on Thursdays," LaShell adds. "And they contact our restaurant customers to let them know our product availability. Then they harvest, process, and deliver those orders. The marketing and customer service experience are invaluable personal skills."
The money from the farm stand is used to pay operating costs at the Old Fort including supplies, equipment, utilities and maintenance.
"This experience has been great," says Rebecca Robbins, an Accounting major from Canon City, Colorado. "I have learned how to identify several plants, learned what has to be done for weed management, how to identify unwanted bugs and how to get rid of them without pesticides, how to take care of livestock properly, how to set up irrigation, and many other things."