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Small program has big impact across nation

School to Farm Project's Erin Bohm and former intern Miles Pastuhoy pose with a scarecrow at the Cortez Recreation Center Garden. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo/Montezuma

School to Farm Project's Erin Bohm and former intern Miles Pastuhoy pose with a scarecrow at the Cortez Recreation Center Garden.

Farm to School education is picking up steam as a national movement. Many programs and schools focus on sourcing local fresh food for the cafeterias while others bring students outside into school gardens, giving life to both classroom and garden lessons! Even in schools where having a garden classroom isn't feasible, opportunities always exist to swap out baby carrots for gummy bears during snack time or use a healthy food like an orange in a geometry lesson. On any scale, farm-to-school learning can affect and increase students' comprehension of all kind of concepts. And ultimately, the more times young students are able come into contact with a fruit or vegetable, the more likely they are to try it.

Many people are aware of the farm-to-school work being done here in Montezuma County, but it is probably not so widely known that the Montezuma School to Farm Project is having a major national impact. The National Farm to School Network, an organization committed to broadening the influence of nutrition and food-based learning, recently established a peer leadership network. This network, comprised of four stakeholder groups (early childhood specialists, educators and teachers, food service-providers, and farmers) was tasked with creating trainings that will help the farm-to-school movement have success in communities nationwide. Of the more than 10,000 farm-to-school programs across the country, 100 were nominated as peer leadership candidates. Of those 100, 20 programs were chosen to represent the four stakeholder groups and the Montezuma School to Farm Project was chosen as one of the five organizations to be a part of the educators and teachers enclave.

Erin Bohm, the Mancos school garden coordinator, has taken on the challenge of representing MSTFP in the leadership coalition. According to Bohm, "There are lots of programs out there doing incredible things, but if you can't effectively share with other people how and what you're doing, it's hard to be recognized."

In part, the Montezuma School to Farm Project has been successful because of its record keeping and attention to detail. It has been helped along the way by Livewell Montezuma, which published a case study outlining MSTFP's accomplishments.

Now, the experiences of a farm-to-school program in the agrarian, rural Southwest are influencing the educational frontiers of cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Sarah Syverson, the director of MSTFP is honored and proud to be putting Montezuma County on the map for experiential education. For a long time, she has been reaching out to programs all over Colorado and the rest of the country for inspiration.

"Everyone in this movement is connected somehow," Syverson said. "There are so many new ideas being generated and shared."

For example, Guidestone Colorado in Salida is splitting its farm-to-school program up into an education-focused garden and a production-focused garden that aims to grow almost 4 acres of fruits and vegetables for Salida schools.

"A program like this could be really exciting to see in Montezuma County down the road," said a wide-eyed Syverson.

Both she and Bohm are excited about how the leadership coalition's trainings can be used throughout Montezuma County and the greater southwest region.

"This kind of training empowers schools and teachers to not only meet educational standards, but also help them to positively effect the kind of citizens their students will be," beamed Erin. The Montezuma School to Farm Project's eventual goal is to reach every student in the county. Through the National Farm to School Network's peer leadership coalition, they are helping to reach students nationwide.

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The Montezuma School to Farm Project aims to inspire youth and their families throughout the year. Even though it's summer time, don't forget that you can come learn about gardening Tuesday evenings from 4 to 7 in Dolores and Wednesday evenings from 4 to 7 in Mancos. Or if those times don't work, swing by whenever you have a moment. If a garden coordinator is there, they could always use a hand, but if they aren't, just enjoy the environment. Go ahead and pick a pea; I bet you'll like it. As the school year approaches, we'll have more activities coming your way; you'll hardly be able to keep up.

The week's garden tip comes from Kelly Pettyjohn with the Wily Carrot Farm in Weber Canyon:

"This time of year, there are endless things out to get your leafy greens - everything from boiling hot days to spontaneous hailstorms. Draping some shade cloth over your lettuce and spinach will help keep it cool and help ward off the hail." Shade cloth can be found at most any farm or garden store.

Farm to School education is picking up steam as a national movement. Many programs and schools focus on sourcing local fresh food for the cafeterias while others bring students outside into school gardens, giving life to both classroom and garden lessons! Even in schools where having a garden classroom isn't feasible, opportunities always exist to swap out baby carrots for gummy bears during snack time or use a healthy food like an orange in a geometry lesson. On any scale, farm-to-school learning can effect and increase students' comprehension of all kind of concepts. And ultimately, the more times young students are able come into contact with a fruit or vegetable, the more likely they are to try it.

Harrison Topp is an Americorps OSM/VISTA with the Montezuma School to Farm Project.

Courtesy Photo/Montezuma School to Farm Project

ERIN BOHM works at the garden at the Cortez Recreation Center. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo/Montezuma School to Farm Project ERIN BOHM works at the garden at the Cortez Recreation Center.

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