It takes a lot to make a garden grow.
There's the careful planning that goes in to finalizing the perfect plot and the untold hours of manual labor it takes to make those initial dreams bloom in to a green reality. From finding the right kind of soil to making the proper adjustments for all kinds of weather, keeping up a viable garden takes hard work and commitment.
It's a serious endeavor for even the most committed green thumbs, a fact the gardeners at the Cherry Creek School District Challenge School know all too well.
The buds are just starting to bloom in the new community garden set up in a former basketball court at the Challenge campus off Mississippi Avenue just west of the Aurora city limits. With a wealth of goodies ranging from oregano and tomatoes to snapdragons and corn, the 10 raised garden beds host a wide range of crops.
The 4-by-8-foot beds also represent a lot of hard work, efforts that go deeper than the dark, loamy soil and the long hours of toil in the sun.
As the Cherry Creek School District's first official community garden, the project is the culmination of four years' worth of planning and work. The garden started as a broad push by the school's homegrown Wellness Committee to encourage healthy lifestyles for the school's students. It developed into what organizers are hoping can become a model for other schools to encourage healthy eating habits and start a lifelong involvement in a healthy and enriching hobby.
"The one thing that we agreed on that we kept coming back to was the fact that kids can eat more fruits and vegetables," said Sally Clark, a parent of three students at the Challenge School and an early member of the school's Wellness Committee. "A garden was supportive of that, as well as psychological wellness and physical wellness. All of the research we did supported the benefits of gardening for children."
Clark, along with other committee members including Ire Evans, Aimee Svenneby and Kathleen Chabin, found support from a large cast of characters, a group that included Challenge School principals and district administrators alike. Science teacher Dan King offered logistical advice; Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull and Associate Superintendent Scott Siegfried provided guidance for a crew looking to establish the first formal community garden in the district. Principals Edie Alvarez and Linda MacCagnan also provided support.
"We knew going into it that it was going to take a long time," Aimee Svenneby said. "We wanted to cross all of our t's and dot all of our i's and make sure the district knew about what we were doing. We've been very methodical. It's taken a long time, but we wanted to make sure our community supported it."
That included getting firsthand input from the students about the fate of the old basketball court, which is now taken up by the 10 raised beds.
"We had to have a healthy dialogue to make sure that everybody was engaged," Svenneby said.
Every class, from kindergarten to eighth grade, has a stake in the garden; every team at the school has an opportunity to plant their own crops. What's more, the students' garden beds offer lessons related to science, biology, history and wide range of other subjects.
For example, different classes have planted seeds related to a specific kind of culture and cuisine – an Italian herb garden includes oregano and tomatoes while another has ties to a history unit on the ancient Aztec, Maya and Inca cultures. The latter plots include corn and quinoa.
"That will go really well with their history unit next year," she said.
That kind of multi-dimensional and multi-faceted learning was a major goal for the originators of the community garden. A successful crop of tomatoes and corn can have implications that reach much deeper than a single growing season.
"We want this to be an example," said Ire Evans, a Wellness Committee member and former Challenge School parent. Evans is a professional chef, and she said the garden can encourage good habits that last for life. "If they learn how to plant what they eat, they have more invested in what they eat."