Community Alliance for Education and Hunger Relief
In partnership with other organizations, the Western Colorado Research Center is establishing the Community Alliance for Education and Hunger Relief which will increase the amount of high-quality fruit and vegetables available to those facing food insecurity in Mesa County and throughout Colorado. All orchard fruit currently growing on nine acres at the WCRC Orchard Mesa Station will be directed to hunger relief, and ten acres of new plots will be developed for commercial-scale vegetable production, with roughly 75% of the harvest directed to hunger relief programs. This will be accomplished by building an innovative service learning program that integrates agricultural and STEM education with meaningful service and civic engagement centered on hunger relief in our community. The Community Alliance is initiating four projects: community orchard harvests; vegetable production; K-12 STEM enrichment and service learning, and community network development.
COMMUNITY ORCHARD HARVESTS
Colorado State University has received national recognition for its deep engagement within local communities and its role in solving community problems through civic engagement. This recognition for its community engagement is evident in the support CSU has given to hunger relief efforts in Mesa County. All of the available apples and peaches grown at the Orchard Mesa Station will be directed to hunger relief agencies in Mesa County. The Community Alliance will organize volunteers to participate in community harvests from mid-August through September. Fruit will be sent home with volunteers and directed to hunger relief programs, giving people the opportunity to both participate in and benefit from the community harvest projects. If you or your organization are interested in participating in community harvests, please contact the program coordinator, Amanda McQuade at – email@example.com.
Seasonal fresh vegetables are among the hardest foods to acquire by hunger relief agencies. As part of the Western Colorado Community College (WCCC) program in sustainable agriculture, WCCC students and paid student interns will plant and manage commercial-scale vegetable plots for distribution to three clients. In a mixed model of entrepreneurship and service learning, students will work with WCCC Dining Services, currently managed by Sodexo, and the Mesa County Valley School District’s Nutrition Services Department to establish a program of direct sales, with the proceeds from those sales reinvested in equipment and projects that will expand production. Students will also work with the Food Bank of the Rockies to grow the vegetables most desired by hunger relief agencies: dark leafy greens, melons, green beans and sweet corn. This service learning internship, unlike any in Mesa County today, is substantively equivalent to small and large-scale commercial distribution; however, it has the intrinsic reward that the effort the students put forth in their internship positively affects the health of the local community.
K-12 STEM EDUCATION ENRICHMENT
The infrastructure at OMRS lends itself to use as an outdoor classroom for K-12 STEM education enrichment with orchards that do not require ladders for harvest, commercial-scale vegetable plots, and a quarter acre Service Learning Garden. We welcome schools who wish to explore the orchards in spring bloom to learn about plant life cycles and the importance of fertilizing insects such as honeybees in agricultural production. Fall semesters provide the opportunity to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, with students making direct deliveries to hunger relief agencies as a part of a service learning project. We are hosts to the John McConnell Math and Science Center Dig In! Camp, which allows kids to participate in more developed STEM programming, spanning from planting through fall harvest. We would like to greatly expand these opportunities to students throughout the valley who are in schools, clubs, youth groups and organizations, and home-school collectives. We can support your curriculum ideas or work with experts agents with CSU Extension to help find supporting curriculum or lessons in STEM:
Thank you to Rocky Mountain Health Plans Foundation and the Bacon Family Foundation for their financial support.
If you are interested in exploring learning opportunities at the Orchard Mesa Station, please contact the program coordinator, Amanda McQuade – firstname.lastname@example.org.