Two months of intensive efforts in 2015 and 2016 have led to the creation of a school garden at Southwest Open School, Cortez’ alternative, charter high school.
A formerly unused corner of the 5-acre campus is now a hub for activities.
In May 2015, the service class, led by teacher Casey Simpson, established a permaculture garden, installed raised vegetable beds, and built an outdoor classroom using flagstone and plants. This year’s class expanded and improved the project with new vegetable beds, an apple orchard, a wildflower patch, a cobb oven and a shade house over the outdoor classroom. Student Kelton Stevens also fabricated a steel fire pit, which sits in the center of the classroom space.
Businesses have donated materials, services, and even cash. Local builder Tyler Lindel designed the shade house, free of charge. A $2,500 grant from the Ballantine Family Fund was used to buy materials, many purchased at a discount from local businesses.
Two new partners this year are the Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP) and the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP). While MSTFP has offered advice to SWOS gardeners in the past, in April and May they put boots on the ground with a team of AmeriCorps members, led by MSTFP’s Danyel Mezzanato. In April, the team helped with grounds work and dug massive holes for the pergola footers plus holes to plant 12 apple trees. On May 5-6 they worked with SWOS students cleaning up the permaculture swale and garden area, helping to plant apple trees, and building the shade house.
Addie and Jude Schuenemeyer, of MORP, were also at SWOS on those May days to lead a fruit tree grafting session and teach the class how to properly plant the heritage apple trees that were part of a grant from MORP.
Ed Whritner, a master stonemason, co-taught the class with Simpson this year. Whritner supervised the construction of the outdoor cobb oven, made from stone donated by Eagle Block and clay dug right on SWOS property.
The school’s “Spring Intensive” term takes place in May of each year. Students are engaged in the same interdisciplinary class all day for four weeks. Service Class students earn partial credits in physical education and service.
The garden project is aided by the SWOS Garden Committee. The committee welcomes volunteers from the wider community. If you would like to volunteer to help with the SWOS garden—whether a little or a lot—and share in the bounty, please contact Rita Stramel at 565-1150, ext. 6012 or email@example.com.