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Extending the season

Modified: Friday, Nov 23rd, 2012

Youth add sweet grapes, cucumbers and zesty lime juice to harvested fresh lettuce and spinach.

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — It’s a challenge to teach garden science when the students are all home for the summer, especially when vacation coincides perfectly with the Valley’s short growing season.

There is a remedy to this conflict, according to Alamosa Community Gardens (ACG) coordinator Meghan Ibach, who has been bringing as much of the gardening experience as she can to Alamosa Elementary (AE) students for the past two years. It involves taking advantage of the school’s designated one-third of an acre garden space to erect a greenhouse classroom, Clorox and the community’s voice.

ACG is a finalist for the Clorox Education Grant. The company is giving away seven grants this year, four based on votes received through Dec. 19 and the others are the judge’s pick. The nomination with the most votes overall will receive a $50,000 grant. The nominations with the most votes in each category – play, create, explore – will each receive a $25,000 grant. Clorox will then review all nominations and pick one from each category based on merit to award a $25,000 grant.

“The grant is this really exciting, spontaneous thing that we found a few months ago,” Ibach said. “Our purpose for getting a greenhouse is immense. With school being out most of the growing season, the kids traditionally plant the last week of school and then they might harvest the first week of school. That is almost the only interaction they get outside in the garden with lots of things growing.”

The envisioned passive-solar greenhouse would have a raised-bed garden area in its southern end and a classroom setting on its north side. It would fall into place next to the outdoor experiential learning garden, the compost center and recreation space.

“It would have this cool shape that you could have a classroom in and have everyone involved with planting,” Ibach said. “You could really work.”

The additional creation and cultivation space would allow the students to have their garden science lessons, which come twice in the fall and four times in the spring, outside of the classroom in a living, plant-filled world, thriving in winter’s freezing temperatures.

“The greenhouse is another way to get them out and learning outside of the classroom,” Ibach said. “We bring really exciting, innovative lessons into the school. The program developed from having fun to bringing science, nutrition and developed curriculum into the classroom, but everyone wants to go outside.”

The students’ excitement is the core of the garden science program, according to Ibach and her volunteer assistant, Jenna Kallestad. Although the would both like to see the school’s garden feed the school’s people, they know it is not a reality.

“Even with this massive amount of space, we are not going to grow enough food that they can serve in the cafeteria on a regular basis,” Ibach said. “We are not that kind of operation. It is not about us supplying that food, it is about getting those kids out here, getting them excited and getting their hands dirty.”

And, hopefully washed before sitting down to a garden fresh meal.

“You watch kids prepare that meal and they have grown that food, they love it, they dig it, literally,” Ibach said.

Kallestad added, “Both of these schools have these beautiful new salad bars for all of the students, but it doesn’t matter if the kids aren’t making the choice to grab those foods. It is that excitement from what we are doing in the garden to the everyday decisions they are making when they are choosing what they eat.”

Learning over a bed of greens and carrots is not only making a difference at lunch, but in the manner AE is going about satisfying state education standards and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) curriculum requirements that are a part of the BEST grant agreement.

“It is exciting for the teachers to know that we are coming and reemphasizing all of those things,” Kallestad said. “More and more people are buying in.”

If the program wants to continue, Ibach said they must. One example is the Alamosa Board of Education’s pending decision on an ACG $10,000 funding request.

“It is critical,” she said. “There is not enough support from other entities to carry on the school program. With as much work that is required, we need a stronger financial support.”

To vote for the ACG, use the QR code or visit https://powerabrightfuture.clorox.com or www.tinyurl.com/alamosagarden

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