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Community gardens take root

More kids learn how to grow their own food

The enthusiasm of a young crowd – a family crowd, really – is keeping the community garden at the Durango Housing Corp. apartments in south Durango looking good this summer.

Four Stolworthy family members – 10-year-old twins Sierra and Rayanna; Cera, 6; and 5-year-old Ciyanne – and Anpo Brown, 10, were watering and planting Tuesday under the guidance of supervisor Ryan Lazo.

“My girls really love it,” said Nevada Stacey, mother of the Stolworthy sisters. “They’ve been involved for years. I think it’s the reward of the harvest that makes it interesting.”

Lazo, who works days at the Durango Nature Studies camp and the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, pointed to the variety of vegetables and melons that are starting to show their heads in one or the other of five 3-by-4-foot raised beds.

The list includes 13 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, jalapeño and habanero peppers, cucumbers, squash, three types of onions, broccoli, chard, lettuce and volunteer mint.

Medicinal herbs are being grown in a raised bed separate from the five vegetable beds.

“We opened it (Southside Community Garden) to the public this year because there was no interest among residents except for these girls,” Lazo said.

Fifteen families from outside the housing complex are sharing the garden – the work and the harvest – this summer. The garden was started by The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado. Families pay $15 each to participate, while participation is free for families living in the apartments at East Fifth Avenue and Second Street.

The Southside Community Garden is one of many in and around Durango.

Probably the most recent was begun this spring by Durango Food Bank, which didn’t receive its annual delivery of nonperishable items from the U.S. Postal Service.

“It was several thousand pounds and meant a lot to us,” food bank director Sarah Smith said. “But we couldn’t have installed our garden without donations from Alpine Lumber for the raised beds, top soil from C&J Gravel and a large variety of plants, including vegetables and melons, from Bonnie Plants.”

“We needed to become more self-sufficient,” Smith said. “So we took a shot at it.”

The garden, at the food bank office in Bodo Industrial Park, measures 60 feet by 8 feet. The goal is to serve struggling families, Smith said.

Another newcomer this year is the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden at East Sixth Avenue and 30th Street. The 1-acre plot is owned by the county and managed by The Garden Project.

One plot there is reserved for Riverview Elementary School for investigative learning.

The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado has sponsored 18 community gardening programs for low-income families, community members and schools since 1998.

Five garden projects involve elementary schools and organizations serving children. Educating children about nature and food production is an important aspect of gardening.

“I think community gardens are popular because people see the value in growing their own food or having a local connection to their food,” said Sandhya Tillotson, executive director of The Garden Project, which melds two earlier programs with similar missions.

“But it’s more than the food,” she said. “It’s about growing community through sharing garden space, food and experiences.”

Tillotson, who worked in the weatherization program at the Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency for three years, joined the garden project a few months ago. She said the Homegrown Food Retreat at Fort Lewis College in February inspired her to apply for her current job.

Manna Soup Kitchen also has a garden to help fill its Backpack Program that gives families fresh produce to take home.

The garden at Needham Elementary School has proven so popular that it’s being expanded from eight to 24 raised beds (one for each classroom). There also is a sensory garden, including scented flowers, for the entire school and learning opportunities.


Garden Project gardens

The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado has participated in programs at these school and community gardens. The years indicate when The Garden Project participated.

Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary (2007-current)

Needham Elementary (2008-current)

Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County (2011-12)

City Hall, downtown Durango location (2010-current)

Manna Soup Kitchen (2005, 2007-current)

Sunshine Gardens (2005)

Riverhouse Children’s House (2004-06)

Smiley School of Arts and Education (1998-2000)

Durango Housing Corporation South (2006-current)

Durango Housing Corporation North (2000-05)

Riverbend Center for Youth (1999)

Durango Senior Center (2008-current)

Prugh Residential Garden (2004-05)

Manore Family Backyard Garden (2009)

Mata Backyard Garden (2011)

911 Communications Center (2011)

Commons Garden (2009)

Fort Lewis College Environmental Center (2012)

For more about The Garden Project, visit www.thegardenprojectswcolorado.org.

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