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Student garden is growing at Galileo School

July 3, 2014 Updated: July 3, 2014 at 9:07 am
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School District 11 master gardener Steve Wilson plants tomatos in the vegetable garden at Galileo School of Math and Science Wednesday, July 2, 2014. The garden will supply fresh produce for school lunches while teaching students about growing plants. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Summer students at the Galileo School of Math and Science got to play Jack and the Beanstalk recently.

As they read "Seedfolks," a children's novel about an urban garden that sprouted from an empty lot, students acted out some of the scenes - in their school's garden.

Following along with characters in the book, students built chicken wire fencing and planted bean seeds.

They won't find out if their seeds are magic like Jack's, though, until they return for classes in August.

But here's a hint: Many of the plants are already a couple of inches high.

The young gardeners also ate nasturtium flowers (which have an orange-peppery taste), shoveled mulch and babied Sasquatch and Squishy Bob, two giant pumpkin seedlings that fellow classmates named this year.

Students will know when school resumes if their pumpkins are hefty enough to enter into Manitou Springs' giant pumpkin contest. And whether they have enough of a harvest to do a pumpkin sale.

Master Gardener Scott Wilson suspects they'll be pleasantly surprised.

"The kids are having a lot of fun with it," he said.

They're also learning a lot, and there's more to come.

The school garden, which started in the summer of 2011 when a solar-powered dome greenhouse was built on top of old tennis courts, has grown into an operation involving all 500 students at Galileo, a magnet middle school in Colorado Springs School District 11.

The program is designed as a "seeds to plates" concept, in which the garden is used for educational purposes and its bounty becomes ingredients for meals at schools in D-11.

The garden has expanded significantly this year.

A Title 1 grant enabled Wilson and another employee, a garden coordinator, to be hired in February.

Having dedicated staff enables each student to get hands-on involvement, averaging six experiences with the garden in the spring semester, Wilson said.

"We're trying to cover every aspect of gardening," he said, from cultivating seeds in the classroom to preparing outdoor beds and transplanting, to composting and letting some plants go to seed for next year.

The number of planted raised beds, 55, is more than double last year's total. The 26,000-square-foot plot has a total of 104 raised beds, the majority of which students from the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus built.

Of the food cultivated, 80 percent goes to the school meals program, said Jamie Humphrey, administrative dietitian for D-11's Food and Nutrition Services. The remainder is for projects, such as the anticipated pumpkin patch sale.

Wilson expects the garden to yield about 5,000 pounds of crops this year, including zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, peas, pumpkins, beans, lettuce, radishes, basil and cilantro.

The beginnings of an orchard also have been planted on campus.

The garden has grown as financial donations, in-kind contributions and partnerships have materialized, Wilson said. Scotts Miracle-Gro delivered potting soil and other amendments. Papa John's pizza kicked in tools, equipment and metal trellises. Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and Pikes Peak Permaculture gave advice and designed the space. The Foundation for School District 11 also has made donations.

Future contributions will help build an irrigation system, add an outdoor classroom with a gazebo and patio and bring the program to full-scale production.

The goal is for the garden to be self-sustaining, Humphrey said, with crop sales and meals-program purchases generating income.

The school also will offer beginning and advanced gardening classes to students in the fall, with the latter including hand pollinating and developing hybrids.

"We're working slowly, building incrementally, but we've made a lot of progress this year," Wilson said.

Tasting the fruits of their labor is the best part for students, Wilson said.

"Last week, five summer school students wandered in at lunch and asked if they could help," he said. "I showed them how to mulch, and they spent their lunch period mulching the beds."

They also ate some snap peas and couldn't get enough, he said.

The garden has helped the students get excited about vegetables, Humphrey said.

"They're learning to eat things they've never eaten before - beet leaves, kale, parsley - freshly picked off the plant," she said. "Research shows when kids are involved with growing their own food they're more likely to eat it."

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