Spotlight on Cultural Enrichment Center of Fort Collins

By Shannon Moreau, she/her/hers

At Fort Collins Nursery, one of our core values is connecting with our community and supporting many of the wonderful organizations that make Northern Colorado such a great place to live. Specifically, we like partnering with groups that empower individuals, provide youth education, or promote planting and horticulture. In honor of Black History Month we wanted to take a moment to highlight the Cultural Enrichment Center of Fort Collins which embodies each of these characteristics as well as their work in supporting the African American community of Fort Collins. 

For readers unfamiliar with the work of the Cultural Enrichment Center, they are a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching African American culture and supporting middle school and high school students’ academic and professional pursuits through a diverse platform of programs.  The curriculum at the CEC is geared toward teaching about African American culture, self-reliance and sustainability, and expanding knowledge and new skills in topics/fields the students are passionate about. The first round of programs ran for students last summer and through the fall 2021 school year with the Poudre School District. I was fortunate to chat with Jamal Skinner, a founding member of the CEC, and learn about an exciting new growing project. This new opportunity is a wonderful exercise of  how to use gardening as an educational tool that in turn creates a self-sufficient business model.

Frame for a 10×10 proto-type greenhouse

During Fall 2021, the CEC built several solar greenhouses, gearing up for their new Gifted Handz program—growing plants to make their own food products! The roots of the program began with addressing food security and building a complete system where students can create and finish a product. Choosing a solar-based system made it possible to build something that, as Skinner explained, “emphasizes a self-sufficient system.” Phase one began with Skinner teaching the basics of electrical systems and how solar panels work, then construction of the greenhouse frames began.

Next it was time to come up with the recipe for their product, to act as the framework for their plant selection. Together the students came up with a culturally blended recipe for their very own Umoja (Unity in Swahili) Salsa, drawing from the history and cultural significance of each plant/ingredient. The next steps will come this spring when they will begin the planting process with seed starting, getting USDA approval for sales of their product and finalizing greenhouse construction. As they get closer to seed starting time, they will hopefully have about 12 students working on the salsa project. Once they get past the growing season, it will be time to harvest and create their salsa, so stay tuned for updates on when and where we will be able to find their salsa. Eventually, the program will grow to new heights. “The bigger idea is to make this sustainable system that can be brought anywhere,” said Skinner.

Overall, it’s easy to see how passionate Jamal Skinner is about the CEC and get excited about how much they are growing. When asked what the best part has been about the Cultural Enrichment Center, he was quick to respond. “Everything (the students) are doing is theirs! They’re being themselves in this space with these other people doing the same thing. They really appreciate each other.” He and everyone at the CEC are appreciative for all of the support they have received, and we at Fort Collins Nursery look forward to working together throughout the future.

How to get involved

Volunteering is one way. Once it is time to get back to constructing raised beds and working on the growing spaces this spring, the CEC will make a call for volunteers! Anyone who is interested in participating or knows a student interested in any of the programs can submit an application through their website along with anyone interested in volunteering. Donating is another way. Donations are the best form of support, and these funds are incredibly important for the growth of the CEC. Through donations we are investing in a brand new place and opportunity for our young Fort Collins community. 

To learn more, get involved, or keep up with events for the Cultural Enrichment Center, see the links below. 

CECFC Website

CECFC Facebook Page

Originally published on February 2nd, 2022.