July 13, 2022

Gardens at Clayton Provide Nutritious Start for Colorado’s Next Generation

Gardens at Clayton Provide Nutritious Start for Colorado’s Next Generation

For children to thrive, they need access to healthy and nourishing food every day. Clayton’s whole child, whole family approach to the early years puts health and wellness at the forefront of our work.  

Alongside the Clayton Cares Market, which provides families free access to fresh produce and household essentials once a week, there are two sets of campus gardens that provide fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs to Clayton students and families. As of July 2022, the market has distributed over 51,048 pounds of fresh food to families.

For seven years, Clayton has partnered with Designscapes Colorado and Hardy Boy Plants, which provide seeds and year-round maintenance for both gardens.  

In June, several Clayton classrooms got to play in the dirt and help plant this year's crops in the Moonbeam Garden. Alex Emerson, Master Gardener at Designscapes, led the planting efforts. Emerson focuses on creating garden beds that are sustainable and full of the proper nutrients to help plants thrive all year. 

“I think spending time in the garden, in the mud, is great for everyone’s immune system and overall happiness,” Emerson said. “The food grown at Clayton is through bio-intensive, organic gardening, and I think one of the most important things we can do is eat food from the Earth as it is naturally.” 

Clayton aims to ensure every child is at a healthy weight and that our students are receiving enough nutrients to grow and thrive when they enter kindergarten. Kristen Wilford-Adams, Clayton’s Health and Wellness Director, wants to focus on creating life-long healthy eating habits. 

“We know that in the first three years of a child’s life, 80% of brain development occurs,” Wilford-Adams said. “And when they are adults, they will use those hardwired connections to enjoy the same foods. We are laying the groundwork for healthy lifelong outcomes.” 

Not only do the gardens provide food, but they also present a learning opportunity for students. Erin Languell, Kitchen Manager at Clayton, grew up gardening with her parents and is happy to share that experience with all our students.  

“I get questions from the kids on my way to the garden, and I love answering those,” Languell said. “They ask things like ‘what are you getting today?’ and ‘can I try it?’. I pick what I can and love being able to share the harvest with the kids right away-- it’s as natural as you can possibly get.” 

Clayton is currently planning to expand the health & wellness program in the future, including an expansion of the Moonbeam Garden. Emerson said that the space on campus has limitless possibilities for additional sections.  

“I would love to expand the orchard area by the gardens,” Emerson said. “I would like to get into tower gardening as well, so that there are more fruit trees, berries, and produce grown at every level that can be sustained year-round.” 

Wilford-Adams said she would love to design curriculum alongside Designscapes and Hardy Boy Plants that provides more involvement for the children and gives them ownership of the gardening process.  

“I would love to involve the families more, and create a seed-to-stomach curriculum,” Wilford-Adams said. “It would be amazing to have self-sustaining year-round gardens, even if we have to put them inside, and host farmer’s markets on campus for our families and the community.” 

Any leftover fruits and vegetables that are not used in the school are brought over to the Clayton Cares Market for families to bring home. Staff and volunteers support the market weekly by stocking shelves and helping families as they shop. We’re looking for volunteers to help on campus once per week. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit our website at www.claytonearlylearning.org/get-involved/volunteer/ 

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