Wendell Berry, writer and activist
Neatly wedged into the south-facing corner of the Mancos athletic field is a large triangular garden that Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP) and Mancos students have created together.
Onions, spinach, lettuce, peas grow alongside young apple trees in the Mancos School Garden. Raised planter beds provide herbs, strawberries, kale, chard, and onions.
Just east and north of the garden, between the field and the school building, is MSTFP’s newest project: the erection of a 50-foot greenhouse that will enable Mancos School Garden to grow food nearly year-round.
It has been a lesson in collaboration and community spirit for everyone involved. Project manager Patrick Alford solicited donations from local sources and was happy with the results.
The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad donated 100 railroad ties for the retaining wall. Once the wall was in place, the ground was backfilled with subsoil and gravel from Casey McClellan of McStone Aggregates in Dolores. Kellie Pettyjohn of Wily Carrot Farm in Mancos donated the infrastructure for the high tunnel. Tools were purchased with a $200 donation from Home Depot, and free dump truck service was provided by L.D. Baugh.
The sweat equity to put it all together is being performed by a team of visiting Americorp National Civilian Community Corp (NCCC) volunteers. Team leader Albert Diemand from Wendel, Massachusetts, is completing his second term with Americorp. Working with him on the project are Max Aifer from Arlington, Virginia and Noah Hanke of New York, both first-timers to Colorado. Montezuma School to Farm is their third urban and rural development project after completing work for Habitat for Humanity and a trail-building project.
When asked about the experience of working with MSTFP and Americorp, Diemand says, “I see NCCC as a good way to get a task force out into the field to do the work that needs to be done, but that people might not want to do, but everyone enjoys the benefits from.” Diemand echoes some of the MSTFP philosophy when he explains how he sees local garden education as a big step toward sustainable agriculture. He hopes that developing education around small-scale agriculture will inspire people of all ages to become more directly involved in the production of the food they eat.
When asked about his favorite experience since coming to Colorado, Diemand remarked on the friendly outgoing nature of Coloradans: “People start to wave again (when crossing into Colorado.)”
Completion of the construction phase of the high tunnel is expected by the end of June.
To find out more about Americorp, go to national service.gov/programs and click on the NCCC link to view the listing of all the diverse urban and rural non-profit work available nationwide to qualified applicants.
School to Farm gets a director
Zoe Nelson may be new to Montezuma County, but she is no stranger to the Southwest.
Nelsen is the newly hired (February) executive director for the Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP).
Raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she is a Fort Lewis College graduate with a master’s degree in language literacy and sociocultural studies from the University of New Mexico. She is currently working on her PhD in sustainability education from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. Nelsen’s interests are in experiential education, food systems, and community participation.
Wilderness guide, ski patroller, soccer coach, landscaper, classroom teacher, and avid proponent of sustainable agriculture and healthy food practices, Nelsen has long felt a “continual pull toward education.” As the newly-hired Executive Director for the Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP), she is discovering where dreams and reality intersect.
Nelsen is a strong believer in garden education for children of all ages. Her educational model would introduce grade school children to growing, preparing, and eating their homegrown food; in middle school it would focus more on production farming and involvement in apprenticeship programs; and in high school it would implement a mentorship program which would connect students directly with established regional growers. Nelsen sees this tiered approach to learning about farming practices as a way to connect local school districts to each other and to Montezuma County.
“I love the young farming energy that’s in the region,” remarks Nelsen, “and I’m encouraged by the focus here on exploring different land use practices.” Nelsen has also been pleased with the support she has received from MSTFP’s different stakeholders: city officials, school administrators, parents, teachers, volunteers, and students. Her challenges, she says, result from the fact that MSTFP is a young, fast-growing program, with 11 staff members serving 3 different school districts, and which must find ways to work collaboratively with diverse interest groups.
MSTFP’s funding comes from school district support, private donations, fundraisers, and foundation grants
Choosing your beets: the darker the better
One of the summer’s early crops is beets. A root vegetable with notoriously mixed reviews depending on who you ask, its earthy pungent quality and distinctive odor can delight or repel. It’s worth giving beets another try if you haven’t tasted them in awhile. One of the most antioxidant-rich vegetables in the garden, they boast a myriad of health-enhancing properties.
While yellow, white, and pinwheel-striped Chioggia beets dazzle the eye, it is the darker varieties that possess the greatest amount of nutrients. However, the paler varieties have the distinct advantage of not discoloring other vegetables when cooked or served together.
Look for beets that still have their greens attached. They are bursting with nutrition and flavor. As a matter of fact, research shows that the greens have more antioxidants than the beets themselves. Buying beets with their greens still attached also signals freshness. The beet greens should be dark green, not wilted or yellow. Substitute them for spinach in a recipe or include them in a favorite salad.