Getting down to earth

Mancos third-graders learn the twists and turns of worms and composting as part of School to Farm Project

Anthony Blevins shows worms to classmates Madison Todd, Audrey Stockton and Mitchell Sam as part of a School to Farm lesson on Monday. The Montezuma School to Farm Project received a $40,000 grant this year to do drought education in the Mancos, Dolores and Cortez school districts. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/The Mancos Times

Anthony Blevins shows worms to classmates Madison Todd, Audrey Stockton and Mitchell Sam as part of a School to Farm lesson on Monday. The Montezuma School to Farm Project received a $40,000 grant this year to do drought education in the Mancos, Dolores and Cortez school districts.

Mancos third-graders spooned worms into a composter Monday as part of the Montezuma School to Farm Project.

Drought conservation is the new focus of the School to Farm Project, after receiving a $40,000 grant from the Colorado State Conservation Board at the end of 2013, Project Director Sarah Syverson said. The project must match the grant with $20,000 of cash donations and $20,000 worth of in-kind donations by the end of the year.

Healthy soil is a key to drought resilience, and that's why the students started by learning how to compost and keep their red wigglers healthy.

"We are going to use our knowledge of fractures to feed the worms in a way they will like that will not gross them out," said School to Farm coordinator Erin Bohm.

She explained the worms require 50 percent dry carbon-based food such as grass and 50 percent nitrogen-based food such as rotting vegetables.

The new grant will help fund materials, administrative costs and school coordinators at Dolores and Mancos districts continue their work.

The coordinators, in place since 2011, also plan to build models of a watershed to show on a miniature scale how water flows, how pollution gets into the water, and how water rights work, Syverson said.

At the school garden at Mancos, which started in 2011, organic and sustainable growing practices such as mulch use, compost and drip irrigation have been the standard.

"Nonorganic growing is not a sustainable choice for a place that doesn't have enough water," Bohm said.

Continually using herbicide and fertilizer tends to be very expensive, and you get "hooked into a cycle of more and more application," she said.

Healthy soil creates strong plants and prevents many problems.

"Drought has been the cause of civilization collapse in the past, we need to plan and prepare for drought in our civilization," she said.

The project enjoyed other successes over the course of 2013.

The School to Farm Project started a pilot garden at Cortez Middle School during the fall semester and is pursuing funding for a full-time coordinator.

The project staff was also tapped by the National Farm to School network to help create trainings for other organizations that would like to start similar projects. Bohm recently presented a version of this training to members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

The Mancos school garden harvested 500 pounds of produce during the fall.

The next School to Farm fundraiser will be the Good for What Ales You Talent Show at the Dolores River Brewery on Feb. 7.

Erin Bohm shows Tara Willburn's third-grade class how to compost Monday. The class is part of the Montezuma School to Farm Project, which is integrated into the Mancos school district. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/The Mancos Times

Erin Bohm shows Tara Willburn's third-grade class how to compost Monday. The class is part of the Montezuma School to Farm Project, which is integrated into the Mancos school district.