The Montezuma School to Farm Project will expand the garden on the Cortez Middle School campus this year after receiving a sizable grant.
The Colorado Health Foundation gave the project almost $53,000 on March 1 to hire a garden coordinator and to plant a half acre on the middle school campus that will be dedicated to growing 4,000 pounds of produce in the first year. They may also hire a production manager.
“I think it’s a cutting-edge idea to have a production space on school grounds,” said Sarah Syverson, director of the project. There is only one other school garden dedicated to large-scale production in the state, she said. The project will also maintain and expand another garden space that will not have a production goal, but will be dedicated solely to classroom time.
The new area will be located between the tennis courts and the baseball fields, next to the six small raised beds already in place. It may also have an orchard and a greenhouse.
The aim is to grow enough produce to sell at a farmers market to help the garden to become self-sustaining. Expansion may start as early as April.
A seventh-grade math teacher and member of the organization’s board, Matt Keefauver, said the production garden will be used to teach business and math concepts, among other subjects such as science and nutrition.
For example, students would calculate how much to charge for vegetables in order to cover the cost of production.
The middle school garden started as a pilot project last fall, and an Americorps volunteer ran it for the first season. The project put in six simple raised beds, and it was used by 10 classes during the year.
Over the summer, the new garden will be managed by the coordinator who would invite students and members of the community to volunteer once a week.
Keefauver plans to start an after school garden club to help develop and maintain the new area and said the students enjoy their time in the garden.
“They are excited about learning new things in a different environment,” he said.
Syverson said introducing students to the business aspect of agriculture is an important step to encouraging them to pursuing it later on in life.
“This is a really valuable piece of the puzzle, to give them a taste of what it’s like to grow fruits and vegetables,” she said.
The project maintains two other school gardens in Mancos and Dolores.