CMC Sustainability Studies student Megan Walker wrote about her summer exploration into sustainable agriculture for the Steamboat Pilot’s Community   Agriculture Alliance column, a weekly column written by area farmers, ranchers and policymakers. The column is published on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Walker’s column is republished below. Read more columns here.

This summer, I embarked on an adventure in sustainable agriculture. Colorado Mountain College’s Sustainability Studies program offered the course for the first time, and while it wasn’t a required course, I am so passionate about the topic that I jumped at the opportunity. Sustainable agriculture is crucial to the success of food sustainability, and I was eager to get my hands dirty.

Grand iCommunity Agriculture Alliance graphicdeas were rolling around in my head, and I quickly learned that these ideas were much larger than the scope of the class.

Simply dabbling in sustainable agriculture is a year-round endeavor.

First and foremost, when planning a garden, soil composition and quality is evaluated so that soil can be prepared in the fall before the snow arrives to ensure a rich, healthy soil capable of nourishing plants the following spring.

A quality garden plan should be developed during the winter months and requires an intimate familiarity of the land and consideration of rotational and companion planting concepts.

Prior planning also allows time to gather seeds and determine the proper timing for when particular seeds will be started indoors or sown in the soil.

Recognizing the limitations of a short summer, there still was much joy to be found in working the gardens at Yampatika’s Environmental Learning Center at Legacy Ranch. Food cultivation using sustainable agricultural practices is possibly one of the most rewarding and empowering experiences we can engage with, and in doing so, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact for ourselves, our neighbors and our environment.

One course assignment was to engage the community in the gardening effort.

A weekly community gardening program was offered. I enjoyed making connections, tending the gardens and watching them grow alongside community members, my family and visitors.

When we visit the ranch, my kids can’t wait to see how the vegetables we planted have grown and are incredibly eager to try them, as well.

Program participants took fresh vegetables, new knowledge and valuable experience home to their own gardens. This program will serve as a building block for future programs, and new volunteer participation always is welcome at the ranch.

We have great expectations for these gardens. We currently are harvesting a first round of produce for our local food bank, LIFT-UP of Routt County.

And next year, we will expand the gardens’ capability with improvements that include a permaculture approach to allow for a greater diversity of products grown.

Last year, a partnership between CMC and Yampatika was created where sustainability students participating in the cultural and place-based equity course worked together with CMC culinary students to deliver a beautiful “Garden to Table” event showcasing food from Yampatika’s gardens and from local producers in the Yampa Valley.

The 2014 “Garden-to-Table” event, an annual fundraiser for Yampatika, will be held Oct. 9, and this year’s collaboration is sure to be another memorable event.

Using lessons learned from our “do it yourself” courses and our experiences in the gardens, we plan to make the gardens even better next year and expand our reach into the community.

The gardens at Legacy Ranch have as much potential as our community has heart, and I hope you will join us for future educational and gardening opportunities in the spring.

Megan Walker is a naturalist with Yampatika and a student in Colorado Mountain College’s Sustainability Studies program.