Montrose Recreation District took a step forward in its mission to construct a community garden and teach nutrition benefits and healthy lifestyles.
MRD program coordinators and maintenance leaders broke ground on a new garden Monday at the Field House site. It served as the initial push for the garden that will act primarily, at the start, as a “living classroom” focused on nutrition education, MRD Recreation Manager Jeremy Master said on Monday, serving kids in the after school and summer enrichment programs.
An $80,000 grant from the National Park and Recreation Association has helped MRD in its focus to help reduce childhood hunger and food insecurity within the community.
The grant, and the garden’s nutrition education focal point, will help increase the community’s access to healthy foods. Valley Food Partnership and MRD plan to increase awareness of federal food programs and enrollment drives that bring greater access to healthy food choices to households throughout the community, Master said. This includes different forms of access and assistance, such as SNAP benefits (including education) and vouchers for the Montrose Farmers’ Market.
“It’s about making it more accessible to everyone and make it more widespread so everybody has the same ability to get access to healthy food and nutrition education,” said Nikki Munroe, garden coordinator for the garden at the Montrose Field House.
Other community organizations could join as the project expands, with plans for community outreach currently in development, though in the early stages. Eventually, the hope is that the garden can act “intergenerational,” acting as a “vehicle” in offering services — education, cooking classes, meal prep — to all age groups in the community. Munroe and Master will team together, and work with partners, to develop community outreach strategies and expand the garden’s compass.
As garden coordinator, Munroe will spend most of her time developing the garden at the Field House, though she’ll also be coordinating with Valley Food Partnership to adopt and learn from best practices used in other community gardens in Montrose. “We want everything to be interconnected,” she said.
The funding and resources from the grant will help Tyler Morales, site coordinator for the after school and summer enrichment programs, make programming more sustainable while offering increased opportunities for growth.
Program Assistant Mackenzie Lyons, who has her own classroom at the Field House, says the garden gives the kids in the programs a chance to translate classroom learning into experiential (hands-on) learning — it’s expected the kids will start digging into the dirt in the garden the first week of April.
It’s similar to what the kids experienced in 2018 when they planted seeds and later watered them in a garden at Pomona Elementary School. Program coordinators and staff received positive feedback from the project, Lyons said.
“To see their faces of pride that they grew something, it’s super exciting,” Lyons said of the Pomona garden before acknowledging the potential of the new project. “I think they’re really going to love this opportunity now that it’s here with the Rec Center.”
Development of the garden comes as the after school program rebounded this semester after seeing fewer kids than usual last fall. (No exact determination was made, but Morales said he believed financial uncertainty due to the pandemic may have been a factor in the enrollment decline.)
Lyons hopes to coordinate with Munroe in adopting NRPA’s nutrition literacy curriculum, Commit to Health: Foods of the Month, for the garden. The curriculum has a gardening section that highlights seasonal ideas of what to plant and grow.
“It really connects the ‘living classroom’ aspect,” Lyons said. “We can start seedlings in here (the classroom), and we can start to show the kids what it looks like and go plant it out there, which is cool to connect the two. If they can’t necessarily plant some stuff out there, they have some input as well.”
That includes the process of fostering healthy habits, Morales said. By starting these hubs of partnerships, the kids can be set up for success through the education and hands-on learning, growing up knowing how to grow their own food while making healthy choices, he said. (Morales commended the collaboration with other organizations in the state, as MRD has offered resource and feedback from its experiences.)
In addition to Valley Food Partnership, MRD has also partnered with Montrose County School District in the past for the programs, Morales said, and MRD hopes to expand with the Nutritional Food Service from MCSD to help provide meals to the community as well as nutrition education, summer lunches for the kids and snacks for the after school program.
Feedback from the public is encouraged, Master said, so the community can offer ideas on how the garden can help someone specifically, certain areas in the city or the community at large. (Master can be reached at [email protected])
“We need to have an open dialogue with everyone that this can help support,” he said.
Construction of the garden is expected to finish by the end of March.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press