Look what’s growing on with Yampah High’s gardening program
For a group of students at the alternative Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, growing food is serious business — literally.
One of the first schools in the region to have a gardening/greenhouse program now has its own student-run enterprise that has expanded to a year-round operation using multiple sites from Glenwood to Parachute to grow and sell or donate locally grown, organic produce.
Yampah partners with longtime local food expert Kim Wille, the founder of the food and gardening education organization Growing Empowerment who has been volunteering to manage Yampah’s gardening program for the past five years.
During that time, Wille worked to expand the program to a year-round operation by creating an off-campus sustainability pod, making use of the greenhouses at Glenwood Gardens during its off season from the fall months through February.
But it has been the students themselves who have stepped up to the plate, making the program’s success part of their own academic success, she said.
Recently, students planted 16 pre-sold, themed “porch gardens” for Mother’s Day to raise money to launch the new business that will begin employing four of the students this summer.
Among them is Aiden Cook of Parachute, a sophomore student in Yampah’s Project Rebound program, who can often be found tending to the gardens on the school campus, as well as outside the LIFT-UP food pantry in Parachute.
“I didn’t know much about gardening before, but now I’ve learned how to grow food not just for yourself but for a lot of other people,” Cook said. “I’ve also learned about different ways to build gardens.
“By growing your own food you can save a bunch of money, and you know where your food is coming from and that it doesn’t have a lot of pesticides,” he said.
Cook is also learning that it’s a great way to make a living.
About 30 Yampah students have been actively involved in the gardening program this year, including a regular group of 10 students in the school’s Rebound program, which serves at-risk students who are often dealing with emotional and behavioral challenges.
Jono Moreau is a Yampah alumni and now a teacher in the Rebound program. He said he has seen some remarkable changes in the students who have been involved with the gardening program.
Just being outdoors and active is part of it, he said. But the socialization aspect of working and coordinating with each other and with adults in the community can be life-changing.
“Absolutely, I’ve seen a tremendous change in a lot of these kids,” Moreau said. “By getting more into the community and involved, it allows them to build a rapport with members of the community and among themselves.
“It takes teamwork and you have to learn how to communicate to do these projects … and when they are in the garden, all is one,” he said.
Recently, students have been busy completing and planting self-wicking beds made from wood pallets, and are hosting “garden parties” to teach others how to build them. In fact, the name for the budding student business will be Garden Party.
Sort of like a barn-raising party, Wille explains that a garden party host invites up to a dozen friends to a work site, and the Yampah student team works with them in a hands-on project to build the low-water keyhole raised bed gardens.
A student in Yampah’s teen parent program is often in charge of catering a healthy lunch or dinner. Groups of students also are planning to build gardens at area child-care centers and preschools.
“This particular group of students has been very highly engaged and have been the ones feeding both large worm farms they built, and which use the school food waste,” Wille explained.
During the late winter and early spring, students helped plant over 1,500 tomato and pepper plants that will be distributed to needy clients through LIFT-UP’s food pantry in June.
The Parachute contingent of students has also been spending several Saturdays volunteering and building the gardens and strawberry towers around the Parachute LIFT-UP food pantry.
One Saturday was spent tending a booth at the Earth Day event in Glenwood Springs, distributing free organic seeds and pre-selling the Mother’s Day porch gardens. Yet another Saturday, the students showed up the morning after prom to clean out the three river rock planters built by Growing Empowerment volunteers last year in Rifle.
“That’s seven out of eight Saturdays in the past two months that these teenagers have woken up early to work hard hauling gravel, top soil and more, and teaching other volunteers,” Wille said. “That’s commitment.”
Over the winter, students also tended to over 400 tomato and pepper plants at the off-campus sustainability pod, which had been planted from seeds grown by previous Yampah students.
As the garden-building season winds down, the students will be teaching four week-long camps for middle school-aged kids starting the second week of July. Then it’s back into Glenwood Gardens for the winter months and planting of crops for hunger-relief and specialty crops for chefs.
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