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Welcome to the Garden of Saints at Jefferson High School

By Shannon Spurlock, Denver Urban Gardens Community Initiatives Coordinator

This past September, Steve Schulz, a Chemistry and Environmental Science teacher at Jefferson High School in Edgewater, CO described, in his words, a momentous day during the garden’s first harvest:

For the first time in District history, our high school students have started to feed themselves. My Environmental Science students harvested about 80 pounds of vegetables and fruits from the garden that are now being served in the school lunches.

Momentous was a very fitting word to describe an event that was more than five years in the making.

Back in 2007, Schulz had reached out to Denver Urban Gardens to explore the idea of partnering with the Jeffco Public School District and Jefferson High School to host a school-based community garden. Since then, there have been several planning and design processes, as well as the very intricate process of working through the details of establishing the first community garden on school grounds in Jeffco Public Schools.

To bring the high school’s vision to fruition, a myriad of partners representing multiple sectors and organizations came together at each step along the way. With the support of Jeffco Facilities, Jefferson High School Principal Mike Little, and LiveWell Wheat Ridge, Schulz was able to move the process forward and begin to engage surrounding businesses, service providers, schools and community members in exploring the potential of a community garden in their community.

One key partner, Lumberg Elementary, was fortuitously located across the street from the Jefferson High garden site, and offered a unique opportunity for high school students to mentor younger children. Lumberg’s Parent Liaison, Angela Bennett, worked with the parent group to host on-site garden-based educational programs and engage the parents in growing their own food. Edlyn Rodriguez, Jefferson’s Parent Liaison, also reached out to parents and helped get the word out about the community garden and its role in bridging the school community with the surrounding neighborhood.

With so much outreach and active community engagement, it was important to remain focused on the direct benefits of having a community garden on school grounds. From the very beginning, Schulz emphasized the importance of student involvement and integrating the garden into their daily lives. He sought to use the produce the students grew and infuse it into the cafeteria. Through hard work and ongoing dedication, he worked with Jeffco Public Schools to have Jefferson High School be one of four district schools to implement a program known as garden to cafeteria, whereby the produce grown by the students is used in school meals.

What took more than five years to put in place now has the opportunity to create lasting change at the school and neighborhood level. The hard work put in by Schulz, his students and both schools, along with the participating residents and community partners will encourage this community’s youth to become their own change makers and help create a healthier, more connected community for Jefferson High School and the City of Edgewater.

Back to The Underground News: Fall 2013