CSU opens final building at Spur campus providing a hands-on experience in food, health and water
Hydro opened last week, joining the Vida and Terra buildings.
It’s been about a year since Colorado State University began working on its new satellite campus, CSU Spur, at the National Western Center.
The campus was set to house three facilities, each focused on a different theme vital to Denver and Colorado. The first building, Vida, opened in January 2022, focusing on animal and human health.
The second building, Terra, opened in June, emphasizing food and agriculture innovation.
Now, CSU’s final and largest building, Hydro, is open.
“With Hydro’s completion we now are fulfilling our core mission which is to engage people and lifelong learners, in food, health, sustainability and now water,” said Jocelyn Hittle, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor.
The newest building’s focus is in the name: it’s all about water. There are exhibits throughout the building focused on water from basic properties to information on the South Platte River. Hittle said there’s a hands-on stream table equipped with water and sand that showcases how water affects the nearby landscape. In the teaching laboratories participants can throw on a pair of boots, walk down to the river, take a sample and assess the health of the river.
Outside the building lies “The Backyard,” which is an open outdoor space where folks can hang out. The space will also collect rain and storm water to grow vegetation.
Inside, you’ll find artwork from local artists such as Jason Bruges, Nikki Pike, and Anthony Garcia, Sr. of Birdseed Collective
The facility has theater space for events and lectures and it will be the permanent home of CSU’s Masters of Agribusiness and Food Innovation Management.
The building is also home to Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory.
A few years ago, Denver Water started looking for a space to house a new innovation lab near the National Western Center. The city, the Center and CSU decided to build it within the Spur campus, according to Nicole Poncelet-Johnson the Director of Water Quality and Treatment with Denver Water.
At the lab, the utility will house water samples from their watersheds spread across the mountains. All of the water quality tests will be run through the lab and participants will have a front row seat to the testing.
Poncelet-Johnson said the goal is to provide participants access to water education and perhaps foster some encouragement to pursue careers in science.
“All three of the buildings support K through 12 educational experiences and interactions and it encourages these kids to consider careers in science or they can just become more familiar with some scientific principles,” Poncelet-Johnson said. “In a world, certainly where we’re starting to see more variability as a result of climate events, building that knowledge, building that research and giving kids exposure to careers that will help support the water, agriculture and health industry in the future is key.”
Besides the educational aspect, Poncelet-Johnson said being at the National Western Center puts Denver Water in a building with agricultural researchers, giving the groups a chance to work on the future of water and farming in Colorado.
Hydro will also be home to a café run by Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, a shop that’s operated in Highland for about 10 years. The shop is owned by Kate Kavanaugh and Josh Curtiss, and they sell 100% grass-fed beef and lamb and pasture-raised chicken and pork. All the beef, lamb and pork are sourced within 200 miles of its shop and they are all regeneratively-raised.
Regenerative farming is meant to be a sustainable agriculture system focused on raising animals the way they would naturally be raised. The animals eat grass, which is healthier for them and those who eat meat, and roam the field in a way that mimics migratory habits. The roaming means minimal soil disturbance and their manure provides natural composting.
“We’re really excited to bring our thoughts on food and sustainability and regenerative agriculture to a broader audience,” Curtiss said.
That sustainability mindset flows into the menu. The café will be a counter-service bowl concept with a starch, protein, vegetable and add-ons. There won’t be any seed oils used for cooking, just animal fat. For vegetarian options, they’ll use coconut or avocado oil. There’s no added sugar to anything on the menu and if it’s needed they’ll use honey, like in their coffee syrups. The milk is “local A2A2 pasture-raised dairy,” which also comes from a regenerative farm. There’s no gluten on the menu besides for the hamburger buns that are an add-on.
“We’re shooting for organic ingredients wherever possible and we’re using the same meat we get from the butcher shop,” Curtiss said.
Western Daughters is also working with service providers such as Focus Points Family Resource Center and Comal Heritage Food Incubator, along with Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhood community members on food education classes and job opportunities.
“We’re thinking about butchering demonstrations and cooking classes and teaching people how to utilize whole animals and how to shop at local farms,” Curtiss said. “For someone opening a catering or restaurant business [connecting with farmers] can get them things at a lower price point…That’s a big part of what we do and what we’d like to help other people do. Build those relationships with farmers and be the bridge between rural and urban communities.”
CSU held a grand opening for Hydro last Friday and, over the next few weeks, there will be some special programming in collaboration with the National Western Stock Show. Hittle said she hopes people visit all three buildings to get the full experience of the campus.
All three themes are connected, Hittle said, and through the hands-on activities, participants will get to feel that connection.
“The campus is hard to describe, so it’s better to come and experience it,” Hittle said. “One of the core ideas of the CSU Spur campus is connectivity. We can’t talk about food without talking about water. We can’t talk about health without talking about both of those things. All of these things are linked together…That connectivity piece means that each of these issues is really connected to you and it’s just a matter of seeing those connections.”