Getting their hands dirty to learn in Rifle |

Getting their hands dirty to learn in Rifle

At left, Kim Wille with Growing Community Forward shows third and fourth grade students in the Access Roaring Fork Boost Camp program in Rifle how to transplant starter tomato plants into larger pots on Thursday, July 24.
Mike McKibbin/The Citizen Telegram |

Veggies planted at the Learning Gardens


Roma, German Green Zebra, Yellow Pear

Greens (& lettuces):

Spicy Asian Salad Greens


Romaine: Speckled

Bib Lettuce

Red Lettuce


Multi-Colored Swiss Chard




Sugar Pie

Big Max

Red Warty Things



Yellow Summer

Honeyboat Delicata

White Acorn

White Patty-Pan

Red Kuri






Yellow Pencil

Blue Lake

Royal Burgundy


Little Fingers






Pearl Corn

Banana Melon (Native American)

Honey Dew Melon


Red and White Potatoes




Purple Jalapenos


French Breakfast & Cherry Belle Radishes



Kids and dirt have always seemed to go together, so why not make the fun of getting hands dirty a learning experience, too?

That’s the thought behind the Learning Gardens at Mancinelli’s Pizza, 851 Railroad Ave., in Rifle. Several self wicking (water is poured into pipes in the garden and is sucked up by the roots) garden beds in front of the restaurant are greening up with vegetables and herbs, thanks to volunteers with Rifle Growing Community and Growing Food Forward, two groups promoting local foods and healthy eating in Rifle and Garfield County.

First through fourth graders in the ACCESS Roaring Fork Summer Boost Camp program at Rifle Middle School helped plant the veggies and herbs and, on Thursday, July 24, transplanted young tomato plants into larger pots and delivered them to the Rifle LIFT-UP pantry.

A dozen third and fourth grade students broke into three groups of four and rotated between watering the plants, transplanting and labeling the pots with growing instructions for whoever picked up a tomato plant at LIFT-UP.

“We want them to feel like they own what they plant and care for,” said Kim Wille, founder and executive director of Growing Food Forward, of the students’ involvement. “They’ll get to take them home when the program ends.”

Lauren Zabawa, a liaison for ACCESS Roaring Fork and a teacher at Graham Mesa Elementary School, said the gardening portion of the camp fits in well with other activities.

“If someone didn’t know they liked gardening, they have a chance now,” Zabawa said.

ACCESS Roaring Fork works with five middle schools in Garfield County to provide after-school and summer activities in the classrooms and on field trips. The eight-year-old program provides services to over 1,600 students annually.

Andrea Matthews, founder of Rifle Growing Community, said the students started planting and caring for the veggies and herbs in the Learning Gardens in early July.

She said the collaboration with Wille’s group made this garden project, as well as many others from Carbondale to Parachute, possible.

“It would not have turned out to this extent without the two groups working together,” Matthews said. “For what we’ve accomplished with so little to start with, it makes you feel like nothing will stop us.”

Zabawa said a few weeks ago, a customer at Mancinelli’s asked what the students were doing in the gardens.

“I explained it and he just raved about it,” she added. “You never know what things like this might mean to the kids, too. There might be a horticulturist among them and it’s a way for them to get their hands dirty in a positive way.”

In an email at the end of the day last Thursday, Wille wrote how, just as she was pulling out of the parking lot at Mancinelli’s to head home, one of the kids from the camp brought his family to see what all the fun and dirt was about.

“I could hear him yelling, ‘Miss Kim’,” she wrote. “I backed back into my parking space and proceeded to follow Harley around the gardens, occasionally answering questions, as Harley took his family to different beds to explain what he had helped plant and to proudly show them the tomato plant he planted today.

“The entire family tested the baby Asian Greens and Harley picked a ripe Roma tomato, and he was just a bubbling fountain of excitement” Wille continued. “And he wants to keep coming to help in the gardens, as does his brother(!), after the camps are over [this] week.”

Then, as Wille tried to pull out of the parking lot again, “in came a car with a boy waving excitedly,” she wrote.

“Same thing with him and his family. It just blew my mind that these kids are bringing their families to see their work in the gardens and that they are so excited about gardening!”

Wille wondered how many other kids have done or will do the same thing with their families.

“My mind is whirring away,” she wrote, “figuring out how to pull off a once-a-week gardening session for the kids for the duration of the season so that they can participate after school and in the harvests and learning opportunities that we haven’t had time to cover, i.e. how worms help, why we plant pollinators, how to tell what are weeds, and how to organically control pests/insects.”

Wille called the Learning Gardens “the biggest pride and joy of all the gardens we’ve been part of this year.”

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