Thanks to a successful partnership between Cayuga Community College and the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency, local families and individuals will have increased access to fresh and nutritious produce, even during the winter months. The agency provided funding through a hunger relief grant from the Walmart Foundation to build a high tunnel greenhouse on the College’s Auburn Campus, near the Thomas F. Steenburgh Nature Center.
With assistance from College and community volunteers, cold-hardy vegetables will be grown in the high tunnel and harvested for distribution by the Calvary Food Pantry in Auburn. As part of a larger vision at the College that identifies agriculture and green sciences as a strategic area for development, the high tunnel will also serve as a training site for project-based educational programs for interested faculty, students, staff, and community members who want to learn about season-extension techniques, drip irrigation, organic farming principles and practices, and sustainable methods of food production. It is also hoped that programming will be developed to include children from the College’s child care center, which is located near the high tunnel.
The idea for this community-College collaboration originated with Michael Pastore, the College’s registrar, as a culmination of his leadership training, interest in gardening, and passion for community building. Ground excavation and construction of the high tunnel occurred in November, led by the College’s Glenn Warner and CSCAA's Steve Wright, and planting began in the first week of December with garlic and shallots, soon to be followed by other cold-hardy vegetables such as spinach, kale, beets, carrots, and lettuce. “There’s been a lot of excitement around this project by everyone who has contributed to it,” Pastore said. “We’re hoping more projects will come about from this model of the College partnering with the community and helping to make possible something that includes and benefits the community. It’s been a wonderful opportunity, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”
Among those community members who have been wholeheartedly involved is Audrey Mochel from the Calvary Food Pantry. According to her, high tunnels (or hoop houses) have become increasingly popular among growers, providing a low-maintenance and inexpensive means of extending the growing season without the use of heat or electricity. Unlike greenhouses, crops are planted in the ground as opposed to being planted in pots. Being a part of this project has been a dream come true for Mochel and her husband, Ken, who have long been devoted to organic gardening practices and the economic and nutritional benefits of the local food movement. “This project at the College is one of a kind,” she said. “For all of us, it has been a real labor of love.”
Laurie Piccolo, executive director of the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency, is similarly grateful for the benefits and relationships made possible through implementing the high tunnel. “In collaborating with the College on this project, we are better able to meet our mission of assisting people in achieving and sustaining self-sufficiency through direct services, education, and community partnerships,” she said.
Students who are interested in volunteer opportunities with the high tunnel gardens are invited to contact Sheila Myers, the College’s experiential learning coordinator, at email@example.com.