Program transforms schoolyards into farm land serving school, community

By Staff

A year of project planning and preparation came to reality last week as McGlone Elementary held a special kind of groundbreaking ceremony. Not only is a Denver Public Schools (DPS) elementary school receiving a renovated schoolyard called a learning landscape, but through a partnership with local nonprofit farmers and the University of Colorado Denver, McGlone will be breaking ground and building an urban farm.

Over the past 10 months, Denver Public Schools, UCD, COPA (the voice of organic agriculture in Colorado) and Sprout City Farms have been working together to launch a pilot urban agriculture program at McGlone and Bradley elementary schools. This program will develop a unique small-scale farm that transforms excess DPS land into production urban farms that:

  • Reduce water use and DPS maintenance
  • Provide locally grown organic foods through community-based distribution methods
  • Provide a venue for urban farming education to DPS students
  • Promote sustainable practices

McGlone and Bradley are the first two DPS schools that will be participating in this pilot program.

"The Urban Farm program is a perfect concept to support the district's sustainability goals. The program provides a fun way to educate our children, reduce water usage through a viable alternative to sod and facilitates less maintenance expense — all of which lowers operating cost," said Trena A. Deane, DPS executive director of facility management. "This program will also create a one-of-a kind effort in Denver and perhaps the nation."

COPA developed a selection process for the DPS farmers and will mentor them through their first couple of years of farming. This mentorship will help local farmers with all aspects of production agriculture, including growing, business aspects, marketing, and certification.

"Connecting farmers to each other and to the community in which they grow makes this program a natural fit and partnership to support the DPS community and the mission of COPA," said Troy Garner, DPS customer relations and special programs manager.

Sprout City Farms, an urban agriculture nonprofit based in Denver, has been recommended by COPA to partner in the Urban Farm Program. The produce grown at the school farms will be sold to school cafeterias (thereby providing fresh, low-cost, organic produce) and at local farmers' markets. The nonprofit plans to collaborate with groups such as Slow Food Denver and Denver Urban Gardens on educational programming to be carried out at McGlone and Bradley; it also aims to build the infrastructure for these sites over the course of 2010 in preparation for the 2010 growing season.

As part of the Learning Landscape to be built at McGlone and Bradley, the schools also will have a school vegetable garden that will be part of the school and community gardening partnership. The natural fit between Learning Landscapes, the school gardens and the urban farms provides natural habitat areas that rejuvenate entire school campuses, having a dramatic effect on children and community behavioral patterns.

Added Professor Lois Brink of UCD, "These types of environments have been shown to provide positive effects on a child's attitude toward fresh fruits and vegetables."

As additional support to the urban agriculture movement, DPS has been awarded a Kellogg grant that will provide necessary funding to build outdoor learning labs and greenhouses at McGlone and Bradley. The greenhouses will extend the growing season for children who will be able to sell their produce to the cafeterias as part of the school lunch and a new DPS "Garden to Cafeteria" incentive.

"Gardens and greenhouses provide a unique opportunity for our students to learn about many aspects of agriculture and the importance of producing locally grown produce. Students will be learning from experienced garden and farming leaders," said DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes.