Southwest Open School students toiled in the soil this spring to create a permaculture garden made from donated and repurposed materials.
“Many school gardens in the area were developed with collaboration with other organizations such as Farm to School,” said Casey Simpson, a garden committee member, “whereas the SWOS garden was built almost entirely by students, through donations – not through grants. So it’s a localized and student-led project, as opposed to having outside resources.”
Through the SWOS tradition of hands-on learning, students are planting corn, beans and squash – the “Three Sisters” – which were cultivated and arranged by Ancestral Puebloans in a way to enrich the soil, provide shade and preserve moisture. The techniques tie into the SWOS Ancients class.
The garden also incorporates modern permaculture techniques and is the only local school garden that incorporates a swale – or soil embankment – designed to capture moisture and runoff to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. Simpson said permaculture also requires less maintenance.
“It’s a system of gardening that requires less work and works within the natural ecosystems within the region,” he said. “So you’re not out there trying to plant something that isn’t supposed to grow in the area. At the same time, you’re utilizing plant systems to enrich the soil that you’re growing in. Like the clover cover crops that add nitrogen to the soil and increase the production of your edible plants.”
The garden utilizes compost generated by the school. Simpson hopes vegetables grown in the garden eventually will be used in school lunches, be taken home by students and be donated to local food banks.
“Incorporating education about sustainable, regionally appropriate gardening is what we’re trying to do here,” Simpson said. “We don’t want to plant a bunch of tomatoes that are going to die on the vine over the summer. We want to plant drought–resistant crops that have been historically successful growing in this region. And in doing so, teach students and/or all people with agricultural farming in their future, that there are ways to eat plentifully if you incorporate permaculture.”
Simpson, Rita Stramel, Julie Birkle and Tory Smith partnered this year to form the SWOS Garden Committee. The plan was brought to life by this year’s SWOS Service Class – which incorporates service learning into projects to benefit the community.
Project contributors include Intermountain Farmers Association, Slavens True Value Hardware, Southwest Seed Inc., the Cortez Public Works Department, Mancos Seed Swap, Stone Gravel, Bob Curry of Permaculture Provision Project, Val Truelson, Colby Early, Patti Ledford and Amy Vasing.
Southwest Open School is a charter high school that uses an expeditionary and experiential approach to teaching and learning. Courses are designed to deeply investigate topics and explore class content through projects, travel, community involvement and service. SWOS was founded in 1986,
Information: Casey Simpson at 970-232-6832.