Dolores students learn from Puebloans

Drought conservation is new focus of School to Farm Project

Trever Grooms, a fifth-grader, picks spinach Tuesday inside the greenhouse at the Dolores Montezuma School to Farm Project garden.

Students in Dolores will be modeling the practices and irrigation systems of the Pueblo peoples to learn about civilization's dependency on water, during new semester.

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, said project director Sarah Syverson. The project must match the grant with $20,000 in cash donations and $20,000 of in-kind donations by the end of the year.

As part of this emphasis, sixth-graders are going to develop labs about the lives of the ancient Pueblo people, including how they grew and ground corn, for fourth-grade students to learn from.

"They will study what happens when drought occurs by looking back in history," said Megan Tallmadge the Dolores garden coordinator.

The new grant will help fund materials, administrative costs and garden coordinators at Dolores and Mancos districts, who have been in place since 2011. The coordinators 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 in Dolores, the growing season has already started in the greenhouse, where students are caring for spinach and carrots. During the course of the year, preschoolers through seventh-graders spend some time in the garden.

In the spring, the students will learn about drought by comparing the differences between garden plots watered regularly and those that must rely on rain to learn about irrigated and dryland farming, Tallmadge said. She also plans to work with the second-graders to chart the weather and the amount moisture falling.

In addition, new drought resilient beds called, Hugel beds, were built at the end of the summer by piling compost and soil on top of straw and logs. Over the winter, the piles should absorb the water from the snow. This helps the organic material rot and retain more moisture for the summer months, Tallmadge said.

The School to Farm Project gardens have emphasized organic methods, which naturally help conserve water, since they started.

"Non-organic growing is not a sustainable choice for a place that doesn't have enough water," said Mancos garden coordinator Erin Bohm .

In addition to winning the grant, 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 who would like to start similar projects. Bohm recently presented a version of this training to members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.