In mid July a group high school girls from Colorado Youth for a Change in Boulder (a drop-out prevention program), along with one girl who flew all the way to Colorado from the DC area just for this course, spent four days at beautiful Sunrise Ranch learning the ways of sustainable agriculture on Cottonwood Institute’s Cesar Chavez Organic Gardening Project. Upon arrival at the ranch, a smiling straw-hatted, bearded man, Patrick, greeted us eagerly and warmly, setting the tone for the entire course. We toured the property picking apricots out of the trees along the way, and learning that this has been a small farming community for decades. We ended the tour on top of a hill in a beautiful ponderosa forest above the farm, our home for the next four days.
After camp set-up and lunch, we headed back down the hill for our first session of farming. Patrick and the interns living on the farm taught us all about harvesting garlic, cucumbers, and broccoli. Harvesting cucumbers was a highlight as we all got to munch on them while working. To wrap up our afternoon of farming, Patrick thanked us for coming to the farm. One of our students returned that thanks by stating, “You inspire me to garden and thanks for getting us out!”
On the second day we started the day off with a peaceful sit-spot. Many of us looked down into the valley over the farm, with the red cliff bands glowing in the morning light and the songs of meadowlarks accompanying the view. We spent the entire day on the farm, weeding the corn and beans and harvesting four huge buckets of basil. In the afternoon Patrick sat with us under the apple tree while we picked the basil leaves from the stems. As we worked, he taught us about permaculture and even played some banjo for us. After dinner we sat on Moonrise Rock and had an engaging discussion about Cesar Chavez, food, and the agriculture industry. We watched lightning in distant thunderstorms as the light faded and the stars came out.
Wednesday morning started at 6am as we woke up to the yips and howls of coyotes in the valley. Half of us went down to the fields to help move the sprinkler pipes. Working together we lifted the pipes, helping the farmers move the sprinklers in half the time it would normally take. We rewarded ourselves with a frolic through the sprinklers to cool down and ended the morning with a meditation circle, where we learned a Navajo song about beauty and sang and danced in the dewy field. We spent the remainder of the day re-making Shelly Mo, a giant Mother Earth turtle pizza oven that had been washed away in the rain. Everyone got down and dirty mixing together the clay, water and manure mixture to make up her shell. We got the afternoon off at the pool, and after relaxing for a while we went back to the farm to make pizzas in our finished oven. The interns helped us harvest onions, basil, beets, zucchini, kale, and garlic to put on our very own pizzas! We even got to have pesto sauce made from all the basil we picked the day before.
We had an amazing evening hanging out with the interns making delicious food. By the time we had to head back up, we were all full of pizza, a familial love and a real sense of the community around farming. Once again we sat on Moonrise Rock, this time with a fit of giggles, giddy from the evening of fun. Once we calmed down we had a touching thank you circle to wrap up our last night on the farm.
On our final day we finished weeding and planted flowers, leaving behind a blossoming memory for the interns and Patrick. We held a roses, thorns, and buds circle followed by many goodbye hugs from our new friends on the farm. Patrick and the interns taught us so much about sustainable agriculture, love for one another and our planet, and how we can all make a difference for the environment with our decisions around food. One student stated that her time on the farm “opened my eyes to the issues of modern agriculture and what individuals can do to make a positive impact for sustainability.”
Many thanks to Sunrise Ranch for giving us an opportunity to learn in such a beautiful place and to Patrick for giving us his expansive knowledge on farming!
Click here for pictures of the adventures!
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
People often ask me about the impact that Cottonwood Institute programs are having and I am reminded of a quote by Paul Loeb that we share with students at the end of our programs:
“We never know how the impact of our actions may ripple out. We never know who may be touched. That’s one more reason why, although the fruits of our labors can’t always be seen, they matter immensely.”
Here are a few ways the impacts of our programs have rippled out in 2010:
We piloted new projects to connect diverse public school students to the outdoors, including the Cesar Chavez Organic Gardening Project, the Three Trees and a River Project, and the Music Survival Project.
The Earth Task Force implemented the first student-directed high school environmental summit in Boulder Valley School District, which was attended by over 70 students, teachers, school district, nonprofit partners, and county officials. They also flipped the switch on the $32,000 solar panel system they helped secure just before Earth Day 2010.
“I was excited I had the opportunity to go on this trip because I have never been camping before! I liked our hikes, learning about nature and plants, and having fun. I can’t wait to see more bugs, caterpillars, and I am excited to go rafting on our next trip.” 6th grade West Denver Preparatory Charter School student from our Three Trees and a River Project.
“The Community Adventure Program was, without a doubt, one of the best classes I have taken at New Vista High School. The Community Adventure Program helped me understand more about my place in the world and how I want to save it. It has helped me understand the incredible potential and opportunity I have as a high school student to make a true difference in the world.” Community Adventure Program Alumnus
“Our son participated in the Endangered Wolves and Animal Tracking Project last summer and the Stone Age Survival Course the previous summer. The experiences he had during these courses have shaped his development and have helped him grow into a environmentally and socially conscious teenager who understands the complexities of human interaction with the natural world and his place in this mosaic. He gained skills and knowledge that he now puts to use in other areas of his life. For example, his experiences have made their way into his papers for school, his commitments and emerging world views, and have boosted his confidence. In a culture that has lost many of its rights of passage for young men and women, the Cottonwood Institute provides the critical skills and experiences that allow young people to understand the world and their place in it.” Kate Cumbo, Cottonwood Institute Parent
“My 15 year old daughter participated in a Cottonwood Institute program this past summer. It was one of the best things we have ever done…and I know she was transformed in many ways because of this trip – aware of her courage to go on such an adventure, pride that she persevered, discovery of strengths she hoped she had but hadn’t tested, and an added self esteem that came from within herself. Thank you for being a part of the journey that my daughter is on and know that you have made a very special impact on her!” Kathy Corcoran, Cottonwood Institute Parent
“One of my beliefs as a teacher of inner city students is to prepare them in all forms to graduate from high school and continue on to college. While students are working extremely hard academically every day, I also believe that it is important to provide opportunities for students to learn life skills as well. Working with Cottonwood Institute to provide life-changing experiences for my students in the form of environmental education and service-learning trips helped my students in so many meaningful ways.” Leigh Garrison, West Denver Preparatory Charter School Teacher
We are extremely proud of the new nonprofit and community partnerships we developed, including: I Have A Dream Foundation, West Denver Preparatory Charter School, Front Range Earth Force, Operation Military Kids, and the Slam Movement just to mention a few.
Finally, we accomplished all of this with 2 full-time employees, 15 contract instructors, and a limited annual operating budget!
A special thanks goes out to all of our students, parents, instructors, educational partners, volunteers, donors, supporters, and board members who helped make this all possible.