Galileo Garden is as unique as it sounds, an impressive ecosystem that sits right outside Galileo School of Math and Science encompassing the area where tennis courts once stood. The produce harvested goes straight inside to the kitchen to provide school lunches there and at other District 11 schools. But the garden has had even more impact than the nutritional value; it has also cultivated a practical learning environment and fostered community involvement.
The garden has been a work in progress since its 2011 groundbreaking yielded a domed greenhouse. The project added 20 raised planting beds in 2013 and grew to 75 beds in 2014. They house a rotating assortment of vegetables for three full seasons of planting, and they are tended by master gardener Scott Wilson and the students themselves.
During the school year, the students at the middle school literally get their hands dirty by sowing seeds, thinning, watering, harvesting and helping to design, landscape and build the growing gardens. Wilson calls the garden a “practical laboratory,” and he exudes passion for the endless educational opportunities that the garden provides. Science classes conduct experiments on how different fertilizers yield different growth results. Math classes take measurements to conclude how much dirt will be needed to fill an area. Art students sketch. English classes compose poetry, and special education students find purpose and peace through gardening tasks.
The project is not funded by the school district but has been built entirely from grant money and fundraising. The entire grassroots effort was honored this year with the Environmental Stewardship Award from Palmer Land Trust. And the gardens continue to grow through the help of volunteers and donations from the community.
For this visitor, the garden has a magical quality. In reality, it empowers students and teachers alike by granting them access to the nutritional and emotional benefits of gardening. Christine Faith is a seventh grade science teacher who has been fundamental in the growth of the project. She enthusiastically describes the “awareness of sustainability” Galileo Garden has given students by “teaching stewardship and caring for the earth.”
“They’re voting, and they’re making choices,” Faith says.
As this school year got under way, students were harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers. Onions and beets would follow in the coming weeks. All are considered “beyond organic,” Wilson says, since no chemicals whatsoever are used to grow the produce.
The surplus that is not used among fellow District 11 schools is sold to Ranch Foods Direct and, in a recent development, to the Colorado Springs Senior Center. The process enables students to learn about enterprise and business by setting prices for the produce and even haggling with consumers. The gardens invite the community in with events like Harvestfest in October where pumpkins are available for purchase and even the theatre department hosts a performance of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown amid the pumpkin patch.
Administrative dietician Jamie Humphrey, naturally supports the nutritional education the Galileo Garden offers, but she sees additional value too. “It shows kids where their food comes from, how to build a sustainable program and learn,” Humphrey says. “From seed to plate.”
It is the first and only exposure to agriculture for many kids. Wilson says Galileo Garden offers the opportunity to “come out, sit and just soak up nature.”
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