Montessori School of Denver
Urban Organic Farm Program
MSD students at every grade level are learning more about gardening and farming as well as the power of growing their own food.
MSD’s Organic Urban Farm program is so awesome it can’t just be in one spot, so it is in several locations across the MSD campus. There are three outdoor raised soil beds behind the Toddler Village, five outdoor raised beds near the Primary Playground, an aquaponics fish tank in the Science Tower, two Tower Gardens in the Upper Elementary classrooms, a container soil garden in the Arts & Athletics Commons area, a Seed Library located in the MSD library, and a one of a kind, upcycled shipping container, our Vertical Farm, near the Welcome Center. Our Urban Farm program spans all ages, big and small, on the MSD campus in meaningful ways.
Our Soil Gardens
Toddlers busily grow potatoes, onions, and carrots for their Stone Soup lesson. With two raised beds of their own, Toddlers love to gently water their crops as they wait for harvest time!
Primary students tend to big self-contained pots outside their classrooms, preparing and saving seeds for our Seed Library.
To introduce students to the value of a self-sustaining garden program students learn how to prepare and package nearly 1,000 seed packets to sustain their garden in the next growing season. The Seed Library is cataloged through the Library catalog system and is available to our whole community to enhance their own backyard gardens.
Lower Elementary students investigate ways to address waste reduction on campus. Topics include composting in the cafeteria, vermiculture, and recycling.
Our Upper Elementary students learn about the future of farming using hydroponics. Students plant seeds in soil-free grow media and then transplant the seedlings to two Tower Gardens in our Commons to grow beautiful, leafy greens.
Maria Montessori believed that as children grew into the middle years of education, they should be working with their hands in the enterprise of farming, therefore, MSD’s Middle School students are the drivers of our Urban Farm program. During weekly gardening classes, the Middle School students learn about the many aspects of soil-based urban gardening through the lens of math, science, language arts, nutrition, and health. Middle school students also plant, tend and harvest the crops located in our main six raised beds.
“Children indeed love flowers, but they need to do something more than remain among them and contemplate their colored blossoms. They find their greatest pleasure in acting, in knowing, in exploring, even apart from the attraction of external beauty.” –Dr. Maria Montessori
OUR VERTICAL FARM
The Vertical Farm at the Montessori School of Denver—the first of its kind nationwide–is housed in an up-cycled, 40′ shipping container that is capable of growing an acre of food in 320 square feet. This environmentally-controlled, indoor, vertical farm uses energy-efficient LED lighting and Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydroponic technology, along with a cutting-edge computer system, to grow food sustainably. This system makes it possible to cut the cost of growing local food by reducing water usage by up to 90% compared to traditional agriculture.
MSD’s unique “greenhouse” design allows everyone the opportunity to see what’s growing inside the box. Montessori lessons happen inside and out. Middle School students work inside the box on the components of the hydroponics system and how they all work together. They learn the ins-and-outs of what it takes to grow plants sustainably without soil, and how to grow hydroponic greens such as kale, chard, oak leaf lettuce, butterhead lettuce, romaine, and bok choy.
With this new learning space, students of all ages learn about the future of farming. A wireless microphone system allows our Vertical Farmer to communicate with students sitting outside the box to extend the reach of this unique classroom.
We grow several varieties of greens and herbs year-round in the Vertical Farm and seasonal produce in raised, outdoor beds. Produce from the Farm is sold to families within the MSD community as part of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program. A portion of what is grown in the farm is also donated to MSD staff and to some of our partners, such as Springbrooke Retirement Community, SAME Café and St. Elizabeth’s School.
Community Supported Agriculture Program
The Urban Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program is a year-round program in which members of the MSD community buy a subscription for weekly food shares from the Vertical Farm and the soil gardens (depending on the season). Families pick UP their weekly share in front of the Vertical Farm each week. Produce for the CSA is harvested by Middle Schoolers during their Urban Farm occupation class.
Urban Farm Events and Programs
The Urban Farm works as a business venture and Middle School Urban Farm students learn how to sustain their farm business through a plan that includes marketing, fundraising through grants, hosting farmer’s markets, and seedling and totes sales, and working on our new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program. Students also host an annual Farm-to-Table Dinner for our Middle School extended community.
Urban Farm Team
Lexi Fickenscher, Urban Farm Manager, graduated from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and has a Masters of Public Health with a focus in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Oregon Health and Sciences University. She owns her own urban farm, Potter Highlands Produce, and before that she helped to create and run Duo Urban Farm that exclusively supplied produce to Duo Restaurant. Lexi volunteered to help start the Urban Farm and officially joined the MSD Staff in 2016. Email Lexi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caleb Gruber, MSD’s Vertical Farmer, has a BS in Environmental Engineering with an emphasis in sustainability from the University of Colorado and a Permaculture Design Certificate from the Koanga Institute in New Zealand. Caleb has a background in hydroponic and aquaponics farming, and experience in outdoor organic market gardening, community supported architecture (CSA), seed-saving, and permaculture. Before joining MSD in 2017, Caleb worked as a farmer at the GrowHaus, a non-profit urban greenhouse supporting the low-income neighborhood of Elyria-Swansea, and as a garden hand at Dart Farms in Berthoud, CO. Email Caleb at email@example.com.