Students harvest fruits of their labor

Pomona Elementary School fourth grade student Lincoln McQuade, 9, carries a couple of tomatoes to bins on a wagon as his classmates harvest more Tuesday at the Colorado State University Western Colorado Research Center, 3168 B½ Road. The children planted the seeds for the vegetables in May. About 70 percent of what the students grow will go to the Food Bank of the Rockies, with most of the remaining 30 percent to be used by Mesa County School District 51 cafeterias or the Lunch Lizard program.

Four months after they planted tiny seeds and tender seedlings, students from Pomona Elementary School on Tuesday harvested hundreds of pounds of produce from their garden at the Colorado State University Western Colorado Research Center.

The fourth-graders picked 1,500 pounds of butternut squash, 200 pounds of slicing tomatoes, 60 pounds of green peppers and 40 pounds of cherry tomatoes, said Amanda McQuade, who facilitates community partnerships for education and hunger relief at the research center.

The harvest was part of a larger effort by the research center on Orchard Mesa to donate produce to local charities and organizations.

“The research center grows food to figure out how to grow it more efficiently and more safely and in the end we don’t really have a use for it, so the station manager decided that we would use it for hunger relief,” McQuade said.

Nine-year-old Kaiyon de Prado liked picking butternut squash the most, even though the plants were prickly.

“I didn’t know that everything would be this big, I just thought it would be a little bit different,” Kaiyon said. “It was cool.”

Cherry tomato plants towered over the students as they picked and tried to sneak bites in the field.

“Keeping them from eating it in the field was a challenge, so they were really excited at lunchtime when we had big bowls of tomatoes for them to eat,” McQuade said.

“They were stunned because when they first came out (in May) it was soil covered in plastic and they just didn’t really believe anything could grow.”

But after months of sunshine, water and care from Western Colorado Community College interns, the plants were thriving.

Dan Sharp, director of nutrition services at District 51, said he will be able to source double the amount of local produce this year because of new partnerships with the research center and seven local farmers. Previously, the school district usually bought about 10 percent of its produce locally, mostly apples in the fall. This year, that will increase to 20 percent.

“They’re eating this food now when they’re eating school lunch,” Sharp said. “It’s cool to see and we hope to keep scaling up.”

Kaiyon said he is glad that the vegetables will go to people who need them.

“I was glad to help plant this stuff for you and to give you a better life,” he said.


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