By DANIEL VELASCO
Hidden behind a fenced wall decorated by cactus skeletons lies a secret garden home to Desert Vista Campus at Pima Community College.
If you’ve ever bought produce from Desert Vista campus, chances are it was brought to you by Project PATH.
“Project PATH (Plant, Assimilate, Till, Harvest) is intended to support students who are interested in various areas of agriculture-related fields, particularly those students interested in transferring to the University of Arizona
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,” said Kathleen Marks, a program manager who oversees the grant for Project PATH. “The program offers participants academic and career advising; trips to local and regional establishments and events; work experience in the Desert Vista farm garden, or guidance on a research project or other activity of interest; tuition reimbursement for appropriate Pima courses; and, for students planning to transfer in fall 2019 and the opportunity to apply for a $5,000 scholarship to the University of Arizona College of Agriculture.”
In 2015, PCC was awarded a $275,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help more students complete agriculture-related programs and transfer to a four-year college or university.
Plant science acts as a catalyst for many of today’s discoveries. Whether it’s creating life-saving medicines, the production of food or new ways of sustaining our planet, chances are that some of the answers lie within plants.
Plant sciences and the UA’s College of Agriculture offers many benefits, such as career opportunities. Students studying plant sciences will have the opportunity to pursue careers within fields such as biofuel research, agriculture-based business, international development and biotechnology.
“At first it had seemed that I wanted to study plants, so I could grow organic produce and not have to pay an arm and a leg at the store,” said Angel Vega, a student involved with Project PATH. “But soon, many more factors played a role in making me follow a career in botany such as alternative energy, natural medicine and climate change.”
For Pima students who want to dive deeper in this field, Project PATH offers help to those looking to get involved both in and out of the classroom.
Some of the hands-on experiences offered by Project PATH can prepare students for the professional world.
“I was also lucky enough to work under the very experienced retired Agro-Ecologist in Restoration, Dr. Vanda Pollard. From growing over 100 pounds of zucchini to composting and transforming our soils to be fertile, Project PATH prepared and got me to follow a career in land restoration and botany,” Vega said.
Given Project PATH’s involvement with the Desert Vista Garden, students involved will have hands-on opportunities to learn more about plants, as well as give back to the community itself.
“Students have been able to learn about critical aspects of agriculture, such as sustainability, agroecology, plant genetics, irrigation and water management,” Marks said. “The most significant student activity in Project PATH takes place in the Desert Vista garden. The garden contains 12 crop beds that are maintained, planted and harvested seasonally. A range of crops, such as kale, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, tomatoes, fava beans, carrots and even wheat have been harvested and sold in the DV cafeteria, provided to the Culinary Department, or donated to the Casa Maria soup kitchen.”
These opportunities don’t just end at Desert Vista’s garden. Project PATH offers other activities as well, including conferences, tours and other educational experiences.
“(PCC students) have also participated in educational road trips to learn about agriculture within the community at the Tucson Mission Garden project, Watershed Management Group, Desert Harvesters, Biosphere II and the Water Resources Research Center annual conference,” Marks said.
Aside from educational benefits, Project PATH also helps students discover some of the more niche aspects of plant science.
“Opportunities in agriculture that can be explored through Project PATH and pursued at the University of Arizona are more varied than students may think and encompass areas such as: agribusiness economics and management; environmental science; sustainable plant systems; nutritional sciences; environmental horticulture; animal and biomedical industries; environmental and water resource economics; and wildlife conservation and management,” Marks said.
Students who are interested in Plant Sciences and want to learn more about Project PATH can contact Angel Vega at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kathleen Marks at email@example.com.
More information on the UA’s College of Plant Sciences can be found at www.Cals.Arizona.edu.