TELLURIDE – A teenager holds up a rectangle of TyVek, asking Telluride’s New Community Coalition’s Kris Holstrom what he should do with it.
“Staple it there,” Holstrom instructs, pointing toward a corner inside the small greenhouse where they’re working. A crew of about a dozen high school students bustle around two wood-framed greenhouses, hammers and staple guns in hand, next to soil-filled containers labeled “arugula,” “mache,” “spinach,” “chard,” and “sweet valentine lettuce.”
The scene is like a snapshot from a class field trip to a local farm, but in fact, these Telluride High School students are only steps away from their classrooms. The greenhouses, which underwent upgrades last week, thanks to TNCC and Southwest Institute for Resilience (SWIRL), are located on the Telluride Middle/High School campus. In a few weeks, the buildings will become a source for fresh, healthy, low-cost greens and vegetables for the school’s cafeteria.
Holstrom, owner/operator of Tomten Farm on Hastings Mesa, as well as the founder of SWIRL, estimates that eventually, the two small greenhouses could be producing as much as 5 to 10 pounds of fresh produce per week – an output that will make homegrown produce a regular feature on school lunch trays this winter. But as Holstrom is quick to point out, supplying the school cafeteria with organic, fresh-picked greens and vegetables is just the beginning of what the two little greenhouses could eventually provide to Telluride’s students.
“There is the direct benefit of saving money, as well as the health benefit of providing students with organic food that was picked that day,” Holstrom says. “But there’s also the benefit of integrating this process into the curriculum.”
As Holstrom describes it, students working to renovate the school’s two greenhouses last week received an education in more than just the science of growing plants in a greenhouse: They tapped into their geometry skills while rebuilding growing benches; delved into physics as they discussed temperature and kinetic energy; and received instruction about plant biology and agronomy.
The school greenhouse project is just the type of reinvention of the traditional curriculum that new R-1 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher hopes to see as the Telluride schools reexamine their K-12 math and science curriculum. As Schumacher explains, there is currently a push to integrate more local resources through organizations like TNCC, SWIRL, the Pinhead Institute, and the Telluride Institute into the school’s curriculum – thus making projects like a greenhouse-to-cafeteria program an established part of education in Telluride.
“We’re currently reexamining our K-12 math and science curriculum, and through that trying to bring in these local resources and realigning them with our programs… so that they’re right there [in the curriculum] from the beginning,” Schumacher says.
Telluride’s school greenhouse project was originally launched last year as an Intensive Service Project, offering a farm-to-table model for students interested in agriculture and the local foods movement. SWIRL and TNCC were major supporters, and helped carry the project over into the new school year by offering funding as well as technical support.
Telluride School Chef Michael Goller also emerged as an enthusiastic ally in the greenhouse project, adding school-grown produce to his menus. He then took the inspiration a step further, by installing a miniature garden in his kitchen that includes grow lights and a hydroponics system.
The past-and-current successes of the school greenhouse project has made Schumacher, and entities like TNCC and SWIRL, look to grow the program for the future. “We’re looking at expanding our opportunities with the greenhouse, perhaps building a larger greenhouse space that could accommodate a class and could provide additional food for the cafeteria,” Schumacher says. “With that, we would be looking at expanding the curriculum, too, connecting what’s happening in the classroom to what’s happening in the greenhouse and the lunchroom.”
SWIRL has partnered with other regional schools to assist in the initiation of similar greenhouse projects, finding overwhelming support from Ridgway, Nucla/Naturita, and Norwood schools.
From Telluride’s students’ perspectives, their school’s greenhouse program offers a learning experience above and beyond what many other schools currently provide. THS Junior Rachel Hampton spent last Tuesday planting seeds in the greenhouses, and said the experience “created a sense of community.”
“We’re not just eating food that was grown elsewhere,” she said, “but we’re actually growing it here, ourselves.”
Freshman Mckenna Brumley put the benefits of the project most succinctly: “It’s fun. I can say that I planted that lettuce, and now I’m eating it.”