Skip to content

Column: Cultivating Community

School gardens across St. Vrain grow lessons in academics, mentorship, and teamwork.
Burlington Elementary students maintaining the garden in the grow dome.


On a sunny Wednesday afternoon at Lyons Elementary, students eagerly gathered in the school’s garden. With baskets in hand, the young gardeners set out to explore the lush rows of vegetables that were thriving under their care. A group of students collected cherry tomatoes, while others explored under the expansive leaves of squash plants, searching for ripe zucchinis. Beyond the act of harvesting, each picked vegetable tells a story, suggesting the greater impact it will have on the community.

Established more than 15 years ago with the goal of providing lettuce for school lunches, Lyons’ school garden has evolved into a thriving ecosystem that offers valuable educational experiences for students while also contributing to the local community through donations.

“Second grade students act as stewards of the garden and have harvested hundreds of pounds of produce each year to deliver to LEAF, the local food bank,” explains garden volunteer Andy Doering. “Every Wednesday, students donate the food they harvest, and it is served to members of the community that night.” First graders also contribute to the success of the garden by caring for the local pollinator population. Students monitor the on-site school beehive, care for the pollinator garden, and refine the pollinator hotels.

Maintaining the garden is a collective effort involving students, staff, and volunteers. On late start days, high school students from Lyons Middle Senior High are present to help with the garden by engaging in various activities such as watering, pruning, and harvesting plants. Students from the Career Elevation and Technology Center’s (CETC) Agriscience Program also play an important role in supporting the garden as part of a mentorship program.

The Farm-to-School Program’s Influence Across the District

An $11,700 farm-to-school grant from the Colorado Department of Education laid the foundation for St. Vrain Valley Schools to develop a Farm-to-School Program which has been instrumental in supporting not only Lyons’ school garden but school gardens and greenhouses across the district. The mentorship component of the Farm-to-Schools Program sends high school students from the CETC Agriscience Program into schools to teach lessons on agriculture and provide hands-on experience in gardening, sustainability, and future food systems.

“Our Agriscience students create age-appropriate lessons on topics such as Colorado agriculture, pollinators, and soil health,” shared Theresa Spires, RDN, School Wellness Coordinator. “They develop the lessons themselves in accordance with Colorado health standards, so it’s part of our farm-to-school ethos and programming. Our students go to schools that have gardens and present their lessons during class time or at after-school green team or garden club meetings. They learn how to interact with younger kids and act as a mentor to them, which our preschool through eighth grade students absolutely love.”

Anna Kragerud, a Longmont High School senior enrolled in the Agrisciences Program and a Farm-to-School mentor, visits Burlington Elementary once a month to provide instruction to students. “One of the highlights for me is engaging with students in lessons about agriculture. I enjoy helping them with the hands-on aspects of gardening and sharing tips about ideal times to plant seeds or cultivation techniques. It’s rewarding to teach lessons to students because they are always eager to learn.”

Planting Seeds for Sustainable Learning

Burlington Elementary’s grow dome is a geodesic greenhouse that was constructed to teach students about plant biology, sustainability, and environmental science in a year-round, hands-on environment. “The dome is used for transdisciplinary learning for all students in the school,” explains Abigail Ellis, STEM teacher at Burlington Elementary. “Younger students contribute by learning about seed anatomy, seed saving, and the life cycle of plants. In STEM class, they start plants that eventually get transplanted in the grow dome. Older students harvest and seed save, and the Green Team does much of the manual maintenance.”

Students in grades K-5 visit Abigail Ellis’s fifth-grade classroom weekly, where a gardening curriculum is integrated into their lessons. High school mentors also visit monthly to facilitate agriscience lessons with K-2 students. Green Team member Adelle Macferrin, fifth-grader at Burlington, looks forward to working in the grow dome and enjoys, “getting to experience lots of different types of plants and working with everyone to make them grow. You can have lots of cool experiences with growing plants and learning what types of nutrients they need.”

Growing “Up” with Innovative Gardening

Members of Coal Ridge Middle School’s Garden Club are getting hands-on lessons about the environment, how food is grown, and the benefits of healthy eating. The garden at Coal Ridge consists of six raised beds and an outdoor classroom. In the winter months, the Garden Club maintains two indoor hydroponics and a three-level growing station. Food produced in the garden is shared with students, their families, and staff.

Jodi Marsolek, the Garden Club advisor, highlighted the role students play in garden maintenance. “They’re actively involved in decision-making, from choosing seeds to experimenting with planting techniques. This year, they’re also planting a mix of vegetables to explore with companion planting and using our three-level growing station to study plant responses to humidity.”

Similar to Lyons Elementary, support from the CETC has been instrumental in the garden’s success and their collaboration has enabled Coal Ridge to provide garden starter kits to its feeder elementary schools. “The goal is for our feeders to start garden clubs in their school so when they come to Coal Ridge, they have a little bit of exposure to gardening,” shared Marsolek. “My hope is that students will develop an interest in gardening when they’re in elementary school and it will grow as they progress through middle school, high school, and beyond.”

Seventh grader Lilia Stringham’s favorite part of the Garden Club is, “working in the community garden, helping others, and teaching new members the ropes. Because I was able to participate in the club last year, I learned a lot and now I can help others.” One important lesson she’s learned from the club is the art of waiting. “It takes a while for plants to come up, and there are a lot of pieces that you have to wait on, which has taught me patience.”

Anna also finds it rewarding to support the garden and mentor students on the Green Team at Coal Ridge. “It’s fun seeing how the students really get into working in the garden and engage in classroom activities throughout the year. Teaching them more about plants and agriculture helps them connect with the environment and their food, and I enjoy being part of that experience.”

St. Vrain Valley Schools has embraced the growing movement of integrating school gardens into the curriculum, recognizing the many benefits they offer. These green spaces serve as classrooms and provide lessons in biology, ecology, nutrition, and teamwork. The impact of the gardens goes beyond the plants they produce; it’s about the sense of community they cultivate, growing alongside them.