Students at Manitou Springs Elementary School aren't getting sauced - just dirty.
Vines covered in hops snake up one side of the building all the way to the roof, where they are supported by rope. Principal Russ Vogel said it's a science project, conceived so that the pre-K through fifth-grader students can "get some dirt under their fingernails."
"We're growing them so kids can see where food comes from, to show how vines and other sheltering plants grow," he said.
Vogel said the vines were planted as a "curiosity" but grew quickly.
In addition to the hops, the school has been growing and harvesting cucumbers, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes, kale, cauliflower, beets, carrots and herbs. Kindergartners plant pumpkins, and then cook, measure and experiment with them as first-graders. The children enjoy working with a chicken coop that contains seven hens and a hydroponics system that provides spinach for the cafeteria's salad bar.
Amy Bradbury, who works in the library technology department, oversees many of these efforts. She took a group of students to a community garden to stake tomatoes, and Manitou Elementary's garden party took off from there.
"We want to teach them how to sustain an outdoor community, see the full cycle," Bradbury said. "They're doing planning, harvesting, and taking what we can't use and either putting it up in the front office for others to take or composting it.
"They get out there and they really work. They really want to put forth the energy and learn about it."
The gardening helps promote healthy eating and ties in with textbook chapters. A predecessor of modern corn, for instance, was a staple food for Native Americans.
Lessons involving hops are probably a few years down the road. The school doesn't use the fruits of its labor when it comes to the hops, but Vogel said they're "not wasted, necessarily," with passers-by picking off a few.
"What happens on the weekends, I can't say," Vogel said.
Though Vogel jokingly proposed the name "Elementary IPA," Letitia Dusich, co-owner and head brewer at Manitou Brewing, said there probably aren't enough hops for Manitou Brewing Co. to capitalize on. "I've had people mention it to me," Dusich said. "We don't use fresh hops right now at all. We kind of have our hop supplier and we get certain hops that we want. We haven't tried to do anything with it."
Though the hops and adorable naming opportunities are a short walk away, waiting to be plucked, Manitou Brewing will stick to its customary five-barrel batches for the time being.
"At this point, we're not looking to do anything too different from our capabilities," Dusich said. "It's more work than it's worth."
So for now, the hops will remain an oddity and an educational opportunity, a sign that beyond those school doors there are impressive things growing.
"I think it's not something you'd learn about it in too many other places, but in Colorado, beer is so big here," Dusich said.
"By the time (the students) are older, there might be more jobs available. It could be interesting."