Education

You'll Dig What CSU Is Doing at Terra

Jen Bousselot, head horticulturist at the CSU Terra Rooftop Garden.
Jen Bousselot, head horticulturist at the CSU Terra Rooftop Garden. Jen Smith/CSU
She’s wrapping up her fourth book. She has a tattoo of a wildflower seed head on her foot. And hundreds of Denver neighbors in need are now reaping what she's been sowing.

“It’s my dream come true: growing food on a building in a city. Does it get any better than that?” asks Jennifer Bousselot. The assistant professor of urban horticulture and green-roof culture at Colorado State University runs the rooftop garden at Terra, one of CSU's new buildings in the Spur complex at the National Western Complex.

“One hundred pounds of tomatoes, 48 pounds of cucumbers, 20 pounds of peppers, 16 pounds of eggplants, 10 pounds of basil.... We’ve donated more than 200 pounds of produce to our CSU food pantry partner GrowHaus, with much more to come," she says. "We may be a mini partner, but we are a mighty one.”

Terra, which highlights agriculture and food systems, opened on the campus in June, joining Vida, which focuses on animal and human health. “We want to engage and enhance the lives of everyone in the Denver metro, especially, and I’m partial to those who get a rise out of gardening," says Bousselot. "That’s one really fun aspect of my job. This is a great space to learn, grow and thrive.”
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Planting the rooftop garden at Terra.
Colorado State University
If your tomato is dying on the vine, you can find out how to save it at CSU Spur's Second Saturday series, when both Vida and Terra are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. During this free event on the second Saturday of each month, you can tour the rooftop garden, plots and greenhouses, and interact with CSU staffers and scientists.

“We get a lot of questions about vertical towers that have grown so popular with families. And how to safely sell produce at a farmers' market. A lot of folks are just interested in how we collect our plant data — the tools and instruments we use — which is really cool,” says Eduardo Rodriguez, CSU professor of CSU Food Safety Systems.

“We love when people say, ‘Oh, this is where my food comes from!’ or ‘So that’s how I solve my plant problem!’ Being able to show people the technology behind urban agriculture, how to grow and why we should consume healthy food — that’s what we’re really passionate about,” says Dr. Mengmeng Gu, head of the CSU Agriculture Science Department.

At other times of the month, volunteers can help the horticulturists with the fruit, vegetables, grains, medicinal plants, pollinator plants and native Denver wildflowers that Terra plans to grow year-round. This fall, Bousselot and her team will be planting garlic and cover crops, spinach and lettuce. Some of the volunteers have so enjoyed the work that they've become graduate students of hers, Bousselet says.
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Close-up of Jen Bousselot's wildflower tattoo.
Aaron Bousselot
And more big things are on CSU's plate for spring. “Our third building, Hydro, will be complete, and it will house the only agrivoltaic rooftop research laboratory in the world,” says Bousselot. “Sounds George Jetson-y, right? Agrivoltaics is a fancy term for combining solar panel energy with food production on a rooftop. Basically, when you grow under solar panels, you generate food and energy at the same time.”

As cities grow in size, she explains, land will become more scarce, and it will be imperative to use technology in order to avoid food deserts. It’s a new field, and “I’m still begging for grants — like a lot of grants — to fund it,” she says.

Because only a minute amount of agrivoltaic research exists, CSU will essentially be writing the book on this new kind of power plant.

“I hardly think about anything else," Bousselot admits. "I get an adrenaline rush every time I come up to our rooftops, knowing what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, how we’re going to change the world with our research. The future is here, and I dig it!”

Visit Terra during Second Saturday at CSU's Spur, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, September 10 (and every second Saturday of the month), at the National Western Complex, 4817 National Western Drive. Find out more here.
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Originally from Missouri, Candy Petrofsky is a former television reporter who cut her teeth in content creation for Walt Disney World. Before moving to Denver in 2022, she owned a boutique public relations firm, and she currently writes for publications in both Colorado and Missouri.