Updated: June 10, 2013 at 10:51 am
How does your garden grow?
The answer at Edith Wolford Elementary School in Black Forest is "year-round."
Don't look outside for the garden, though.
Spinach, arugula, dill, lettuce, kale and other nonroot plants thrive in a tall, futuristic-looking Tower Garden, stationed in a sunlit hallway on the school's second floor.
"It works really well - it's an amazing way for the children to grow their own vegetables and harvest them and eat them," said Lisa Keller, third-grade teacher and the school's science and math coach.
A grant from Academy School District 20's Green Team, a sustainability initiative, paid for the aeroponic unit that vertically grows up to 20 plants using an air and misting system instead of dirt.
"The majority of my students do not garden at home with their parents, so this is a great learning experience," Keller said. "We incorporated science, reading and writing into the project and had a big salad party at the end of the school year."
Now that they're pros, students are teaching adults about the system.
At Saturday's Colorado Farm and Art Market at The Margarita at Pine Creek, students showed off their indoor garden at an informational booth and answered questions about how it works.
"It's easy," said Caden Anderson, who was in Keller's third-grade class this school year. "You put the seeds in spun volcanic rock. You put the timer on, and a special pump makes water flow to the plants for 15 minutes."
Also, students from six other D-20 schools that have conventional community gardens baked chips from kale they had grown in a solar oven. Students again will set up a booth at the same farmers market July 13 and bring produce to sell.
Planting, harvesting, cooking and eating crops from school gardens not only teaches children about where food comes from but also helps them develop a taste for healthier meals, Mary "Emily" Nelson said.
"We've tried to teach from seed to table," she said. "Gardening is being absorbed into the curriculum in many ways."
The mother of two initiated the first garden at a D-20 school in June 2010, at Rockrimmon Elementary School, after being awarded a $2,500 grant from the Green Team. She orchestrated the grant to buy the Garden Tower.
"We often get the message that it's expensive to eat healthy food, but it can be very simple to grow a garden, whether you have a pot on your porch with lettuce or share a community garden plot," Nelson said.
While most of the space at school community gardens is devoted to student planting, some plots are available for the public to lease, with the fees offsetting the watering costs for the school, she said.
Donations from homeowners associations, local businesses such as Whole Foods and Lowe's and private individuals have helped the schools keep the gardens growing. They've also received advice from Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and Venetucci Farm and individuals who have shown them how to dry seeds.
Some of the schools have greenhouses, and some compost scraps from their lunchrooms and classrooms. All have garden clubs.
The interest is strong, Nelson said. Of the 300 students at Rockrimmon Elementary School, 120 are members of the garden club, she said.
"It's really fun," said Tyler Byrne, who also had Keller as her third-grade teacher this year. "My favorite thing to grow is mint because of the smell."