New Americorps Profile: Matt Bristol

Dear TGP supporters, volunteers, and lucky people who have found their way to our blog,

Hey y'all! My name is Matt Bristol, I hail all the way from New England, and I'm super excited to join The Garden Project as an Americorps School Garden Educator!


I don't know if there was a real "lightbulb" moment when I knew I wanted to dive into the local food movement. When I look back at the trail that led me here, though, I can make out some cairns in the fog.

Studying abroad in the sensitive climate of Switzerland opened my eyes to a more sustainable way of life grounded in its own unique landscape. Classes on environmental politics, political ecology, and sustainable development allowed me to explore the geographies of climate change and globalization. My work in the Skidmore College Sustainability Office co-managing the bikeshare and volunteering with campus composting introduced me to the power of shared transportation and local food production to take ownership of their community, no matter how small. I've been interested in the relationship between people and place for a long time now.

Reading Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Ed Abbey, Barry Lopez, and Gary Snyder in my free time also pointed me toward a deeper ecological ethic and a more holistic understanding of access to local, healthy food as an environmental justice issue. I think even my Zen practice and study continues to inform and reinforce this understanding.

These people write real good^. (left to right: Lopez, Berry, Snyder, Dillard, Abbey)

A few experiences along the way shook my idealism, though. A short stint at the EPA in Washington, DC turned me off to working in policy. I felt so far removed from the people who would feel the effects of environmental legislation. Naturally, I did a 180 and went to live on a small organic farm in Connecticut the next summer, stumbling into the tomato patches and kale forests, ecstatic, like a parched traveler stumbling into an oasis in the desert.

See? Kale FORESTS! 

Farming was hard work, but incredibly fun! I think I grew more as a person in that one season on the farm than in my whole college career. After coming home, I was restless. It was a classic New England winter, and I had cabin fever. I found the Garden Project to be a perfect next step - combining my love of growing and eating good local food with a desire to share this enthusiasm with others.

Between applying for TGP in March and coming out to Durango in August, I used some of my farm earnings to WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Norway. There, the only good local food was local meat - specifically, local lamb. Local vegetables were almost unheard of. I ended up working on both a lamb farm and one of the only small organic vegetable farms outside Bergen. I got to help sheep give birth in the April lambing season, and helped prepare 1.5 acres of newly plowed land for planting at the veggie farm, effectively doubling their size.

The lambs on the first day of being let out of the barn! And the fields immediately post-beet planting.

I'm constantly getting updates from them about how well they're doing, and seeing the once brown, stony slopes now overflowing with brassicas, beets, carrots, and flowers for the tiny town's restaurants and hotels is so gratifying. Farming in Norway also taught me how radically growers have to alter their practices to accommodate a different climate.

Western Norway was going through an historic drought at the time, and the vegetable farmers didn't know if the snowpack would provide enough water to keep the stream they used for irrigation running. It was an alarming introduction to the very real impacts of a changing climate, wholly indifferent to our human needs. When it finally rained after seven weeks of sun, we ran outside and danced in it.

All of these experiences have prepared and led me to Southwest Colorado, where, alongside Chloe Field, my Americorps parter-in-crime, I'm so excited to share my love of growing and eating good food with the kids of La Plata county!

Outside of my work with TGP, catch me on the trails, skiing, or just sitting on my porch reading a good book. 

Looking forward to diving into the community!!

Peace, Matt B

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Juarez, Mexico Rotary Club Visits Manna for Inspiration

This Wednesday, we were so glad to host a group of seven women from the Campestre (Spanish for rural, country) Rotary Club in Juarez, Mexico at the Manna Garden! They are on a tour of gardens and other nonprofits in the Southwest to learn how they can incorporate a nursery, garden, and, hopefully, community kitchen into their already robust poverty-fighting program. One of the biggest challenges in Juarez is the allure of gangs to young people in poverty, since gangs are often able to provide food for them. Campestre hopes they can be an alternative source of hope for the poorest residents of Juarez. 

After a tour of the Manna garden and a bit of harvesting, they got a tour of the learning kitchen and prepared a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and beans from the garden. As they chopped and diced, they told us more about the specific challenges they face. Though it would seem that their direct conflict with the gangs of Juarez over providing those in poverty with food and shelter would be in the forefront of their minds, what really concerned them was whether such a project was possible in Juarez's arid climate, as well as how to secure funding. As a few of them told us, though, seeing the bounty of the Manna garden in the dry climate of Durango was very inspiring. We wish them the very best in their efforts, and we were so excited to share experiences and stories across cultures, languages, and borders!

Photo Cred: Chloe Field

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Manna Culinary Students Explore the Art of Butchering

Thank you Sunnyside for the tour of your facility! Manna Culinary Arts students ventured into the world of meat processing on April 19th. Students followed live hogs through the process that ultimately turns them into bacon. Even though students did not raise a hog or develop a relationship with them, they were able to view the stark moment of death. The animals are moved through a series of fences developed by Dr. Temple Grandin, a famous advocate for humane kill floors. The hogs are then hung and butchered. Students were able to explore careers within the butchering industry and a couple even took home job applications. The Manna Culinary Arts Program provides assistance with filling out applications and creating resumes. The next batch of culinary students will start in the late summer and will be integrated into the Manna Garden through workshops, harvesting, and farm to table meals!


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Early Summer in the Garden...What's growing?


Right when you thought we couldn't get more plants packed into our Manna Garden....

We've been growing the garden figuratively and literally. In addition to creating 9 new hillside terraces, we literally planted over 50 flats of basil, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bok choy, napa cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, kale, chard, parsley, and cucumbers! We've been so busy, we haven't blogged all spring!

Our NCCC crew, hailing from all over the United States, came to our assistance in building the 9 new stone terraced beds in the hillside orchard. We're working hard to expand the garden growing spaces within our one acre fence. The 9 plots will be cycled into the Manna Community Garden Plots as interest grows over the next year.

Our community at the Manna Garden is growing as more clients become involved in the garden through the brand *NEW* Community Garden Plots!!!! Manna clients were chosen through an application process to be our first pilot community gardeners. 6 of the 9 plots were dished out to clients while the other 3 are being tended by veterans from the VOA sheltor. This "garden therapy" is providing a time for vets suffering from PTSD to get their hands in the dirt and connect with each other through gardening! We also have some veterans currently helping out at our regularly scheduled Wednesday Workdays.

Photo Credit: Amy Johnston

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Closing of the 2018 School Garden Year


Last Friday marked the end of the Durango 9-R School District year. This means that all in-class & afterschool programs have officially ended!! Here at The Garden Project, we had quite a busy spring school semester. Dirt Club, Farmer Days, Junior Master Gardeners, and our electives course at The Juniper School have all come to a close.

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Peaceful Spirit Garden Installation!

The Garden Project recently held a garden giveaway with a grant through the Moniker Foundation. The winner was Southern Ute Peaceful Spirit in Ignacio, which provides addiction treatment services and inpatient rehabilitation.

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Kelle Bruno - School Gardens and Good Food


Kelle Bruno has spent years doing farm and garden work with youth in Southwest Colorado. These days she teaches 1st and 2nd grade, along with gardening, at a charter school in Pagosa Springs, but back around 2010 she was getting her hands dirty in the Needham Elementary School Garden

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Garden Giveaway! - Spring 2018

The Garden Project of SW Colorado, The Moniker Foundation, and Paonia Soil Co. are teaming up to provide one lucky school or organization in La Plata County, CO with nine Smart Pod gardening totes, and the tools, supplies, hands-on support, and training to grow their own food.

Schools and organizations who serve individuals and families in need, that are interested in the opportunity to start a garden and who have the ability to impact and inspire others to do the same, are encouraged to apply.


To increase access to fresh food and gardens and to encourage more locally grown food in our community.

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Shari Fitzgerald - Where it All Began

It’s been twenty years since Shari Fitzgerald was assigned a project in her senior sociology class at Fort Lewis College. While her classmates spent the semester working closely with local nonprofits and organizations, Fitzgerald took a different approach. She created her own.

What would later turn into the The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado started as Greens and Things, an organization that provided at-risk youth with garden therapy. At the time, Fitzgerald was working with the same populations through other local organizations. It was then she noticed the kids she was working with responded well to being outdoors and getting their hands in the dirt.

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2018 Volunteer Opportunities


The 2018 Volunteer Opportunities flyer is out! This is a quick overview of the opportunities we have to offer.

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