Do you know where the food in your cafeteria comes from? The students at Sopris Elementary School, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, do. They grow it themselves!
A story in TIME For Kids two years ago about fresh food in schools planted the idea for the school garden. The article suggested that readers invite a local lawmaker to lunch. Fifth graders Niamone Myer and Meghan Cobb invited Bruce Christensen, who was the mayor. “We wanted to see if we could make school lunches a little healthier,” Niamone told TFK.
Christensen joined the kids in the cafeteria. “We talked about the importance of fresh food, and that’s how it all got started,” he says.
A Two-Part Plan
Christensen also happens to be the executive director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services (MVDS). The organization supports people with developmental disabilities through teaching programs. Many members work on their gardening skills at the MVDS greenhouse, located next door to Sopris Elementary. Through the greenhouse program, members learn how to work alone and with others. After lunch with the students, Christensen invited Sopris Elementary to use part of MVDS’s greenhouse as well.
Christensen said the project had two goals. The first goal was to help kids learn how food gets from the ground to the cafeteria table. The second goal was that MVDS members and the students would learn from each other.
“We wanted to educate kids about people with disabilities who contribute a lot to the community,” Christensen said.
Fifth-grade teacher Mark Browning worked with MVDS greenhouse manager Adam Jull to create a plan for the greenhouse. They decided how students would use the greenhouse and how to pay for the project. The goal was for students to work with MVDS members to grow food for the cafeteria at Sopris Elementary.
“I saw all the possibilities for teaching science and growing vegetables,” he says.
The program received grants from local banks and businesses. The Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development provided a loan and $5,000 for the plan.
“The kids have loved it,” Browning said. “We’ve been teaching about plants and where food comes from.”
Today, the project is blooming. The school was able to add a solar-heating system to the greenhouse to keep plant beds warm in the winter. The project has saved MVDS money by helping to save energy. The money they save will be used to pay back loans and improve the greenhouse. MVDS also hopes to add solar panels to the rooftops soon.
“It’s worth the time it takes to do it,” Browning said. “I’ve found the parents and community are very much behind it.”
More than 400 students are taking care of the plants in the greenhouse. Every class in grades K through 5 garden two or three times a week. In science classes, students are using worms to compost the soil. First, vegetable scraps from the cafeteria are separated from other waste and taken to the greenhouse. Then the worms break down the food scraps to create fresh soil.
Last month, students began to harvest their first crop of vegetables, including carrots, radishes and spinach. Hannah Jull, 11, says the crops are doing well. “We have so much fun,” she says. “Everyone is going to like the food we’re growing.”
Niamone believes the school garden has inspired kids to plant gardens at home. “The project taught us that with a little hard work, you can make a healthier choice,” she says. “You just have to take that one first step.”