Denver Schools Grow Veggies with Help from Locals

I’ve been volunteering for Groundwork Denver for a couple of years now. Once I’d had enough of trail restoration in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and decided to help restore the urban environment, I found that Groundwork was the obvious choice. Originally established in the UK, Groundwork is a nonprofit that helps city dwellers save energy and grow food, and teaches youth about the environment by hiring them for the Green Team.  I like the variety of activities and the diverse group of people I meet at projects.

For the last couple of years, Groundwork has been collaborating with Produce Denver, a for-profit company that designs edible landscapes, and with Denver Public Schools to grow veggies for DPS school lunches. McGlone Elementary, located north of I-70, is one of the three DPS schools providing land for farming (in this case, its former baseball diamond).

McGlone workday, June 27- Groundwork Green Team member and volunteer plant cucumbers at McGlone,  IMG_1257

This year the farm at McGlone is growing cucumbers, but the weather has not been cooperating. An extremely wet May hampered planting, and then June brought in hailstorms. Although Produce Denver had covered the cucumber beds, many of the seedlings did not survive.

So there we were, rather late in the growing season at the end of June, planting cucumber seeds, weeding, mulching the paths to cover up the weeds, and straightening out the drip lines. Then we covered the beds again to give them a little extra protection from our crazy summer weather.

McGlone workday, June 27- Groundworks Green Team members and a volunteer plant cucumbers and weed, IMG_1253

As you can see in the picture above, the beds are slightly raised and planted with two rows of cucumbers. Each bed is watered by three drip lines. The green vegetation along the edges of the beds is a combination of weeds, grass, and cover crops planted last fall to add nutrients to the soil. We stood as best we could in the narrow pathways between beds—in places sodden from the recent rains—and looked for bare spots. Then we pushed a couple of seeds half an inch into the soil.

McGlone workday, June 27- Nick Grube of Produce Denver adjusts irrigation lines 1, IMG_1258

Last year Produce Denver grew a variety of vegetables at each of the three school sites it farms (McGlone, Schmitt, and Bradley elementary schools). But, as I learned from Nick Gruber of Produce Denver (pictured above straightening the drip lines), rotating multiple crops at each site every year would create a logistical tangle, so this spring each school farm was planted with one or two crops. The cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes harvested from the farms will be used in lunches at DPS schools.

The seven of us planted and weeded for two to three hours. I got tired bending over in the hot sun, especially since I hadn’t worn a hat, and I burned my lower back in a crescent where my tank top rode up. I may go back to wearing a T-shirts on these workdays, since the tank top didn’t keep me that much cooler and was a little skimpy. Everyone else seemed tireless, but I was glad to stop shortly before noon and have some ice cream.

McGlone workday, June 27- enjoying ice cream, IMG_1263

Urban farming has blossomed over the past couple of decades, with people setting up small farms in the city or suburbs wherever they can find land. I’m glad that public schools have joined in, changing their lunch menus to reflect the growing importance of fresh food and, sometimes, establishing their own farms to grow a portion of their own produce.

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Groundwork Denver aims “to bring about the sustained improvement of the physical environment and promote health and well-being through community-based partnerships and action.”

Produce Denver “looks at the urban environment as a unique ecosystem where people and land come together in very intimate ways.”