One garden at a time.
The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado
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!