The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado

Organizational History:

The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado provided educational garden programs to the La Plata County community from 1998-2020. In Spring 2020, The Garden Project (TGP) officially merged with Manna. It is estimated that over the past 22 years, over 9,000 youth and 4,000 adults have been directly served through the varied gardening and food security programs. In 2017, TGP received the prestigious award of Non-profit of the Year from the Durango Chamber of Commerce at the Durango Rocks event.  

The founder of TGP, Shari Fitzgerald, first started an organization called “Greens and Things” in 1998 as part of a Sociology project while attending Fort Lewis College. This program promoted youth development through garden programs in Durango. Low income and high risk youth groups helped to design, build, plant, maintain and harvest several gardens in Durango. Those gardens included the Durango Housing Projects in both north and south Durango and The Smiley Garden.    

In 2004, “Greens and Things” Children’s Gardens and “Growing Community Food Project” merged because of shared missions to continue the work of teaching important environmental and land issues through garden programs. The two organizations combined to form The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, a federal non-profit organization. 

From then on, TGP offered programs at over 22 community and school garden locations including Manna Soup Kitchen, The Ohana Kuleana Community Garden, Needham Elementary, Durango City Hall, Durango Housing Corporation, the Riverhouse Children's Center, Sunshine Gardens, Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary, Sunnyside Elementary,  Riverview Elementary, Park Elementary, Miller Middle School, The Juniper School, Roberta Shirley Head Start, Fort Lewis College, and Peaceful Spirit/ELHI in Ignacio. 

 The Ohana Kuleana Community Garden (OKCG) was one of TGP’s showcase community gardens located on the north side of town at 564 E 30th Street, in the Animas City neighborhood of Durango. Ohana Kuleana is a Hawaiian phrase that means “Community Responsibility: we all own each other’s actions.” The community plots are cared for by individuals, families, Riverview Elementary students and groups and offer an outlet for people to connect through gardening with fellow community members. The OKCG continues to operate independently, with plots available for gardening.  

 Another large portion of TGP’s mission was served through educational programs that have been provided to the elementary schools including; Junior Master Gardener in collaboration with CSU Extension and La Plata County 4-H, Dirt Club after school program, Farmer Days and Summer Garden Camps. In 2019, these programs reached 2,480 participants, provided 3,500 educational hours and were key to connecting our future generations with growing their own food. 

Well-loved community events included the Tour De Farms bicycle ride visiting local gardens and farms hosted in collaboration with CSU Extension La Plata County, and the One Garden at a Time annual farm-to-table dinner and fundraiser event.  

The Garden Project merger is a result of a deep collaboration with Manna. This relationship sprouted from the development of a small garden next to the original soup kitchen in 2005, which has gradually expanded over the years. TGP staff and volunteers helped to build and maintain the Manna Garden while also offering food security programs like the Manna Market. In 2018 this program served 977 people and distributed 7,600 lbs of produce, while the on-site garden produced 2,424 lbs of produce. As this relationship grew, a green-house was built on site in 2019 to further the food production potential and community connection through an outdoor event space. 

Today, TGP and Manna will continue to serve our community through garden education and food security programs. Manna has a very food-focused campus and continues to offer the benefits of food connection, health, and community through their organization. Stay tuned! 

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Gardening Resources for our community

From The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado

See the resources below for more information on The Garden Project, as well as guides on growing your own garden.

History of The Garden Project and Manna

2005 - Fort Lewis Field School constructs the first Manna Garden outside of the original soup kitchen building with help from Manna Soup Kitchen staff and The Garden Project of SW Co.

2010 - The Manna Garden expands across the parking lot and Theresa Stone and Jason Cloudt construct the beginnings of the labyrinth garden that still serves as the garden's focal point. At this point part of the garden was next to the original building and a small labyrinth with seating area was across the parking lot.

2011 - Frank LeBeau and Tom Skiles expanded the labyrinth according to late Sara Wakefield's garden expansion plans.

2013 -Construction of the Manna Culinary Arts Building began and The City of Durango leased Manna the new and larger garden space across the parking lot. The Manna Culinary Arts Program is now intricately linked to the Manna Garden and The Garden Project provides valuable "farm to table" educational hours to students.

2014 -With the increase in garden space, Jason Cloudt and garden manager Brooke Frazer began planning new beds and ways to work with the shale. Volunteers from Hill Top and Manna volunteers dug out 5, 50 ft beds in the hard shale to be filled with soil. 4 new smaller beds were also added to the labyrinth area. 3 of the large beds were filled with top soil and planted with cover crop. The Manna Garden Share Program was created as a way to distribute fresh produce to local families. The Manna Cooking Matters class began this year and has been run every year since.

2015 - The remaining beds were filled with soil, amended and then planted with legumes. The large hoop house was installed on the south side of the garden. 15 families were selected to receive a weekly Manna Garden Share in addition to supplying the kitchen with fresh produce. A drip irrigation system was installed to replace the overhead watering.

2016 - With the intention of innovating the Manna Garden Share program, TGP and Manna created the Manna Market free produce stand. TGP worked with Durango Farmer's Market and other local farmers to redirect wasted produce to food insecure families. 12 new raised beds were also installed in the garden and filled with amended top soil, expanding the growing space into unused areas. The Manna Apprenticeship was also created to teach gardening and self sufficiency skills to teens.

2017 - The second year of the Manna Market was a great success! The Manna Garden was also expanded onto the hillside by a hard working crew from NCCC. They created nine half moon terraces to provide community gardening spaces in the future. With the expanded infrastructure, the garden produced an additional 225 lbs of produce in 2017, totalling 1,525 lbs for the season. The Manna Garden continued to provide opportunity for teens to garden including teens from Trio Upward Bound, Rainbow Youth Center, and LPYS.

2018 - Vegetable production ramped up to 2,424 lbs of garden produce in 2018, and a total of 7,600 pounds of food was distributed through the Manna Market this year. Of the 837 people fed from the Manna Market, 24% were children. Four farm-to-table workshops were conducted with Manna's Culinary students, and a Food Justice program was conducted with teens in TRIO Upward Bound and Rainbow Youth Center. We also broke ground on a new greenhouse!

2019 - Moniker Foundation built and funded the new 3-season greenhouse made from hempcrete (a renewable material) to be able to extend the growing season. Brooke Frazer concluded her time as the Manna Garden & Food Security Program Manager (as an employee of The Garden Project), and volunteers wrapped up the growing season and put the beds to rest. The management of the garden was successfully transferred from TGP to Manna in the Fall.
2020 - The greenhouse was completed in early 2020, and Kyler Grandkoski became the Manna Garden & Food Security Program Manager (as an employee of Manna). The garden season got off to a slower start than normal, due to COVID-19, but we are excited to see what this year and the future hold for the Manna Garden!