By Jamie Leary


LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4)- The Colorado Agriculture Department is highlighting the state’s next generation of farmers through its Colorado Proud program. It’s hosting a symposium this week to inform those in the industry of how things are changing.

Colorado nonprofit brings Learning Gardens to school children. (credit: CBS)

Agriculture is one of Colorado’s leading industries and according to Colorado Proud, it’s recognized as one of the top 10 nationally for production of a variety of agricultural products. The state has more than 38,000 farms encompassing nearly 32 million acres. It supports more than 170,000 jobs and contributes more than $40 billion to the state’s economy annually.

While the symposium plans to cover many topics, one of the panelists plans to focus specifically on the youngest of the future farmers.

“I saw a need that was so important to what was happening across the globe today, around kids knowing where their food comes from, and I met Kimbal Musk who is our founder and off we went,” said Tighe Brown, President of Big Green.

Colorado nonprofit brings Learning Gardens to school children. (credit: CBS)

Brown helped launch Big Green, a nonprofit started in 2011 by The Kitchen restaurateurs Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk. It’s mission is to build healthy futures for kids by connecting them to real food through a nationwide network of Learning Gardens and food literacy programs.

“In Colorado we want to work with every school that is ready for a learning garden. We have an open application process that really focused on underserved schools having access to this opportunity,” said Brown.

Big Green, based in Boulder, has built Learning Gardens in 80 schools across Colorado and more than 600 across the nation.

Colorado nonprofit brings Learning Gardens to school children. (credit: CBS)

Learning Gardens are permanent, long-term investments in the schoolyard. The beds are made from FDA approved, food-grade polyethylene.

The gardens come at no cost to the school, and they also come with an indefinite commitment from Big Green. The organization provides the funding through private donors as well as gardeners to get kids started and come by to help when called upon.

On Tuesday, CBS4 visited Loveland’s Garfield Elementary. The students are finally getting to harvest much of what they planted last spring.

“Now they’re plants, full grown, that we’ve tasted and they’re amazing!” said Gil Hagen, a 4th grader at Garfield Elementary.

Hagen never knew how much he liked vegetables until he had the chance to taste the ones he planted last spring.

“It makes me feel happy and curious, kind of, to know. I want to know more about what happens in the seed and how it grows!”

LEARNING GARDEN BIG GREEN

Colorado nonprofit brings Learning Gardens to school children. (credit: CBS)

Gil couldn’t be more excited.

“It’s not just packaged something from the store! It tastes amazing! The lettuce, the peas, the spinach. It’s amazing.”

It’s exactly the kind of enthusiasm Brown knew Big Green’s learning gardens would create.

“I remember the first garden, and it took about 5 min to realize that this was going to be successful. The minute the kids walked into the garden, and they realized that it was theirs and that they were in charge of taking care of it? The energy was incomparable.”

While there is a wait list for the Learning Gardens, there is no limit. For Brown, it’s a matter of time and funding.

Colorado nonprofit brings Learning Gardens to school children. (credit: CBS)

“In Colorado, we want to work with every school that is ready for a learning garden.”

Big Green is just one of many organizations contributing to the Colorado Proud community.

The symposium, while it’s not open to the public, will give industry leaders a broad view of the many working behind the scenes to keep up with the changes.

In addition to Tighe Brown, the symposium will feature the following panelists:

  • Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg: Keynote on goals for Colorado agriculture, as well as moderator for the panel discussion
  • Will Johnson, CEO, Flying Diamond Ranch: Multi-generational farming, the business of agriculture, resources, food safety
  • Roberto Meza, founder, Emerald Gardens Microgreens: First-generation farming, getting started in ag, land access, education.
  • Kris Staaf, senior director of public affairs, Safeway: Local food business, retailer landscape, consumer trends
  • Don Marvin, chairman and acting CEO, Concentric Ag Corporation: Technology, innovation, new applications, water and soil health
  • Dr. Amanda Weaver, professor, University of Colorado, Denver: Academics of farming, changing market trends, resources
  • Tighe Brown, president, Big Green: Changing food culture, local food in schools, local food in restaurants

Jamie Leary

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