At the Montezuma County League of Women Voters meeting on Saturday, the focus was on the next generation.
Zoe Nelsen, executive director of the Montezuma School to Farm Project, was the group’s guest speaker for the month. She gave a presentation on the benefits of creating school gardens and teaching sustainable agriculture to elementary and middle school students, and how the project has grown since its beginning in 2009. About a dozen members of the League chapter attended the meeting, and they all promised to support the agriculture program in the future.
The meeting began on a gloomy note, as most attendees were disappointed in the results of the election earlier in the week. But after they commiserated for a few minutes, the mood quickly became more optimistic with Nelsen’s presentation. She talked about some of School to Farm’s major successes, like being able to send students on two trips to the White House to meet Michelle Obama. But she said the major benefits of the program will be seen over the long term.
“Part of what our mission is, is to be working in the gardens, but then also working with the teachers to support academic learning,” she said. “This movement can revitalize our schoolyards.”
She showed pictures from the Cortez Middle School garden, where students help to grow and harvest crops just a few feet away from the highway. Several schools in Mancos – where the project started – Dolores and Cortez offer School to Farm classes. The project currently includes six gardens, with a seventh on the way for next year. Nelsen estimated about 1,600 students were involved this year. She hopes next year to be able to hire a full-time project manager to run the school farms. Right now each garden has a part-time garden coordinator, who is matched with an AmeriCorps direct service manager to oversee the project.
Members of the League had many questions for Nelsen about the program, such as where the funding comes from – mostly from city school districts and federal grants – and how the program encourages sustainable agriculture.
After the presentation, the League members applauded Nelsen and talked about a few ways they could promote School to Farm.
“I’m hopeful you can eventually move it to high school,” Betty Janes said. “We all talk about how not everybody wants to go to college, and we talk about the Tech Center, but ... it’d be nice to have ag more visible.”
Nelsen also talked about the fundraiser efforts she is planning for the program this year. One fundraising event, a photography show made up of pictures from the School to Farm program, will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 15, in Mancos.