University of Colorado Denver students explore how global and local models of agricultural production are feeding the planet in a new sustainable agriculture program.
The students get hands-on study and research opportunities at a 13-acre urban farm in Wheat Ridge, Colo.
Five Fridges Farm, a field research station in the suburbs, is also the home of Amanda Weaver, a geography instructor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences.
Weaver is coordinator of the four-class certificate program in Food Systems and Sustainable Urban Agriculture.
Weaver’s passion to integrate sustainable farming with urban areas led her to buy the farm, which is a conservation easement that’s been donated to Colorado Open Lands, a land conservation group.
The farm was first settled by Ernestine and Walt Williams in the early 20th century.
While the site offers the assortment of chores that busy any farmer, it also comes with the challenges — zoning restrictions, residential neighbors, water access, etc. — of being in the middle of an urban area.
Weaver, a city dweller-turned-farm steward, is fascinated by the interaction between local farming and suburbanization.
Apartment complexes rise on both sides of her farm, which is anchored by a farmhouse and several outbuildings.
“Food has been grown close to cities for thousands of years,” Weaver said. “Now we’re getting to the point of making critical decisions of either having water for the cities or water for food production. I’m trying to educate students on what that means.”
Sarah Russell, as second-year master’s student, likes the hands-on aspect of the farm. “You can see the vegetables being grown and find out where they’re being sold,” she said. “We’re learning how sustainable a farm can be and how self-sustaining a person who does the farming can be.”
Weaver is also a member of the Wheat Ridge Planning Commission. She is re-imagining the 100-year-old farm as a site for practicing — through partnerships, leases and cooperative animal share programs — sustainable urban agriculture in the 21st century.
“I want to see young people and first-generation farmers try to create viable models for urban farming.”
She noted that the certificate also makes CU Denver students more employable in planning departments.
Cities are increasingly dealing with urban agriculture issues — such as residents who want to raise chickens, keep bees or collect their own rainwater — intersecting with strategic growth plans.
Five Fridges Farm — a reference to refrigeration needs for on-site milking) is set up to be a research site allowing students and community members to study a range of urban-agriculture interfaces, Weaver said. The site offers a unique opportunity to engage students in long-term study of sustainable agriculture as well as perform research in environmental science, environmental studies and urban studies.
“I feel this is a community asset,” she said. “We should have community members and students out here because it keeps the legacy of the farm going.” ❖