Picking pecks of peppers

Columbine Christian kids reap harvest from new garden


A basket full of beets, held by third-grader Abagail Albert, center, is just part of Columbine Christian School’s bounty. Abagail is joined by her sister, Gabriela Albert, a preschooler at Columbine, and first-grader Aden Jensen. Enlarge photo

A basket full of beets, held by third-grader Abagail Albert, center, is just part of Columbine Christian School’s bounty. Abagail is joined by her sister, Gabriela Albert, a preschooler at Columbine, and first-grader Aden Jensen.

It’s not pejorative, but a compliment to say Laura Driver’s classroom herb project is growing like a weed.

Driver, who teaches first- and second-graders at Columbine Christian School, three years ago began growing basil, cilantro, oregano and rosemary in pots as an introduction to botany.

This year, they have a 50-by-75-foot garden that produces an abundance of lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, jalapeños, cucumbers and purple bell peppers. Watermelons and pumpkins are coming on, and onions and garlic are being planted.

Things took off last winter when Driver began a collaboration with Bo Maloney, owner of J. Bo’s Pizza & Rib Co. The kids supplied him with free basil and then the bounty of the garden as the program expanded.

Maloney responded by giving Driver’s class growing lights and seeds.

Then parents and students leveled a plot of weedy ground and prepared the soil for planting. Driver’s husband, Dan, installed a drip irrigation system and Simon Gnehm, who had a son in Driver’s class, milled logs left for some reason at the school into boards to build raised garden beds.

“I’m interested in helping, I think, because a third-grade teacher took an interest in me,” Maloney said. “Laura (Driver) shows the same interest in her students and inspires them.”

Maloney is not stopping.

“As a second step, I’m buying four 55-gallon composters so the students can make their own dirt,” Maloney said. “The third step is going to be getting a greenhouse so they can grow year-round.”

The garden project now involves almost all elementary students, Driver said. They plant, weed and harvest, providing Maloney free basil and vegetables and selling the rest to neighbors. Students also will make soil with compost that Maloney donates and oversee the composters.

Third-grader Ashley Powers, 8, has two years of growing under her belt. She learned the secrets of the seed cycle in two years with Driver.

“I’ve learned a lot about seeds,” Ashley said Tuesday as she and other students made the weekly harvest. “I liked herbs, but I like broccoli and watermelons and pumpkins better.”

Driver said the Neighbor to Neighbor project teaches students that food is grown by people and doesn’t magically appear in markets.

“Our program, which we call Neighbor to Neighbor, shows students how to turn a plot of barren ground into a productive garden,” Driver said. “I want my students to be knowledgeable about what it takes to grow.”

daler@durangoherald.com

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald  
Columbine Christian School students pick a peck of peppers from the school’s garden on Tuesday. From left are Aiden Hoffman, second grade, Cyrus Lewis, second grade, and Chauncey Hoselton, first grade. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald Columbine Christian School students pick a peck of peppers from the school’s garden on Tuesday. From left are Aiden Hoffman, second grade, Cyrus Lewis, second grade, and Chauncey Hoselton, first grade.

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald  
This freshly picked pepper from the school’s garden, held by Columbine Christian second-grade student Cyrus Lewis, will go to J. Bo Pizza, which partnered with the school in its Neighbor to Neighbor program. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald This freshly picked pepper from the school’s garden, held by Columbine Christian second-grade student Cyrus Lewis, will go to J. Bo Pizza, which partnered with the school in its Neighbor to Neighbor program.

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald  
Second grade student Jared Driver and first grader Sam Self search for ripe tomatoes Tuesday in the Columbine Christian School garden. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald Second grade student Jared Driver and first grader Sam Self search for ripe tomatoes Tuesday in the Columbine Christian School garden.

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald  
With the garden’s bounty collected, Columbine Christian School teacher Laura Driver, left, calls in students who were part of a new program called Neighbor to Neighbor. Students raised garden vegetables and delivered their crops to J. Bo Pizza, which had contributed supplies to get the garden stared. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald With the garden’s bounty collected, Columbine Christian School teacher Laura Driver, left, calls in students who were part of a new program called Neighbor to Neighbor. Students raised garden vegetables and delivered their crops to J. Bo Pizza, which had contributed supplies to get the garden stared.