Riverview Science Teacher Plants Seeds of Inspiration for Community Garden

5/13/2022

When Riverview science teacher Charlie Love learned that the lot where the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden grows was to be sold, he proposed that it be moved up the hill to Riverview Elementary School. Little did he anticipate that his suggestion would plant the seeds of inspiration to grow an outdoor community education center. This story is sponsored by Serious Texas Barbecue and the law firm of Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley

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What started out as a simple idea to relocate The Ohana Kuleana Community Garden to the Riverview Elementary campus has grown into a multi-year plan to build an outdoor community learning lab. You're watching Local News Network brought to you by the law firm of Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley and Serious Texas Bar-B-Q I'm Hannah Robertson. For the past nine years, Riverview Elementary science teacher Charlie Love has taught his students how to employ scientific analysis and problem solving with hands on learning projects and the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden below the westroom of campus provided a perfect outdoor lab for his lessons.

And so this past summer, when we found out that was getting put on the market for sale, I was realizing that how important of a component that is of our curriculum. And so we started investigating alternatives and first of all, ways to preserve that space and those gardens and then alternate locations and we realized that there's a lot of unused space right here on the Riverview campus. And so I immediately thought, okay we should rebuild up here at this school campus and I wanted to keep the community garden component of it because that's brought a lot of value to the kids' experience.

Ohana Kuleana was established in 2013 with the financial assistance of property owner Bob Lieb and dozens of volunteers. Six of the gardens, 45 plots are dedicated for the use of Riverview Elementary School. Lieb listed the property for sale last year, but garden members were unable to raise the funds to purchase the half-acre plot. When Love approached 9-R superintendent Karen Cheser with a proposal to relocate Ohana Kuleana on the Riverview campus, she challenged Love to think of a broader mission that would benefit not only the gardens members and Riverview students, but students and the community districtwide that's when the Seeds of Inspiration Lab or SOIL project was planted. Its mission to promote STEAM and place-based education, self-sufficiency, sustainability, equity and community in a dynamic outdoor environment.

Basically we started from there is like what are all the things that we could accomplish and the education part was kind of automatic that was the starting point. But then recognizing that at the same time we can really support the district's priority right now around sustainability that's a big push for our district. And the self-sufficiency part really came from our brainstorming with Manna Soup Kitchen about how to help people grow their own food and be able to eat healthier diets and then of course exploring their benefits to the environment as well.

Love presented his proposal to the board of education in April. As designed, the SOIL project would incorporate garden beds available to students, school families and community members. Phase two would add a pollinator garden to attract bees and other pollinating insects, beehives and herb garden, an orchard and a berry farm. Phase three would include an aquaponics greenhouse dome and solar pavilion. With phases four and five adding education stations, exhibits, a farm stand to stall and distribute excess produce to families experiencing food insecurity, a chicken coop and topping it off a learning center. Ambitious to be sure, but Love says two donors have already committed a total of $250,000 to the project and a volunteer committee plans to launch a fundraising campaign this summer. Love also said he's working with the city of Durango parks and recreation department to apply for great outdoors Colorado grants. The lab lends itself to broad multidisciplinary learning opportunities from students designing and building components of the project, to social, political and environmental lessons on local food production, food equity and security. Business students could learn retail skills managing the farm stand. Science students could conduct research and experimentation in a number of scientific disciplines.

Purposely we wanted to take the focus off of growing fruits and vegetables and herbs, there's a lot of ways for people to get inspired and feel connected to their community and become more informed and so we want to do that in as many ways as we can.

Love hopes to begin construction on garden plots this summer with beds available for production in spring 2023. For more information, email Love at clove@durangoschools.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network I'm Hannah Robertson.

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