SHERIDAN — During the summer, Sheridan College faculty members stay busy with a variety of research. With the support of grants, educators across the departments are able to conduct innovative projects, gaining notoriety for the Northern Wyoming Community College District.
It’s not uncommon for faculty to receive nine- to 12-month contracts or stipends to work on a grant project, said Wendy Smith, NWCCD director of marketing and public information. This summer, two faculty members have received funding by working with the University of Wyoming, with Sheridan College being a subrecipient.
Chemistry faculty Rob Milne acts as the liaison for a $15,000 INBRE grant from the National Institute for Health, collaborating with UW. The funds are split between projects in the district: Rachel Kristiansen at Sheridan College and Holly Martin and Sherri Adams at Gillette College. Kristiansen is training the brain to respond to certain stimuli, Martin is focusing on bacterial resistance and Adams is trying to prevent corrosion in medical equipment.
“Grant opportunities are huge and very diverse,” Smith said. “We’ve done very well over the past few years with receiving grants.”
Working to conclude a current research project Ami Erickson, the NWCCD dean of Agriculture, Science, Math and Culinary, is investigating improvements for vegetable production in the state through a $7,000, two-year grant provided by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. Due to the particular difficulties farmers face in northern Wyoming, such as weather and temperatures, Erickson is conducting research to determine if the growing season can be extended with the use of high tunnels (polytunnels). The WDA wants to see an increase of high tunnels being used throughout the state in order to improve the timeframe of growing seasons.
Producer and owner of Box Cross Road Farms Tom Varcalli finds farming in Sheridan County to be challenging.
“The frustration with growing in north central Wyoming is because of the weather, because of the physical damage of wind and hail,” Varcalli said. “Then on the fall side you have the frost — you have the early frost like we did last year.”
While cold weather crops such as onions and cabbages fair better he said, vegetables such as peppers are more delicate.
Erickson hopes to combat these challenges through her research. Partnering with the UW and Sadanand Dhekney — an assistant professor of agriculture at the university — she identified vegetables often grown in the area: tomatoes, zucchini and lettuce for instance.
She is currently growing them in three environments: low tunnels, high tunnels and out in the open.
When the weather grows colder she’ll use low tunnels within the high tunnels and observe the results.
High tunnels are a system of greenhouse-like structures without heat that producers use to provide protection for produce.
Low tunnels are smaller structures using wire and plastic to cover vegetation.
High tunnels are common in various countries such as France, Varcalli said, with U.S. farmers turning to these methods more regularly now, too.
Although the number of producers in Sheridan is low, Erickson said, she hopes this will help local farmers increase their production, creating a surge of local produce at the Sheridan Farmers Market and possibly grocery stores as well.
“(Production is) pretty small scale at the moment,” she said. “But there’s a lot of potential in Sheridan, I think, to have larger producers be able supply a market demand even year round if they have the right system set up.”
Her research will continue into the fall until the cold weather wins out and her produce freezes.