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Student-created garden improves food access in northeast Denver

A handful of students created the garden last year, and one in particular used the space to mourn the loss of his mother.

DENVER — Vista Academy in northeast Denver has created a community garden, led entirely by students to expand food access in the area. 

The school received a grant from Healthy Food for Denver's Kids, a voter-approved initiative. The funding has established a community garden on the campus, an aquaponics system, a healthy snack student initiative and an educational program through the culinary department that provides monthly cooking lessons for students’ families. 

The community garden was built and cultivated by a core group of about 12 students in the beginning. About 40 since then have played a role in creating the garden into what it is today. 

"The garden program really took off with the kids, and I call it applied mathematics," Assistant Principal Barbara Koenig said. "So the kids built this all from scratch, ground up. Learned how to use tools, levels. I think they did a phenomenal job." 

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Much of the work was done over the summer, outside of school time for those who wanted to participate during the main growing season. 

"This was all student-led, and again that just fills my heart with joy that they have done an amazing job. I get a little emotional, but they are awesome. They are awesome young people," Koenig said. 

No student has spent more time in the garden than Anthony Muñoz, a junior at Vista Academy. 

"I just had a lot of fun with it, and it always just takes your mind off. It’s just always peaceful, seeing everything and all the bugs flying around," Muñoz said. 

Muñoz came out to the garden every day. He often stays after school hours to get everything done. Not only does he plant and tend to the garden, but Muñoz also constructed the garden boxes and built most everything else from scratch. 

"I’ve had teachers tell me just to channel my focus into something and then I can do it," Muñoz said. 

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The garden was especially helpful to him in the past year after his mother passed away. 

"This helped me. This helped me a lot. I would say this is kind of my turning point in life, working on this, because it got me opportunities that I don’t think I ever would have gotten. So I’m really grateful for that," Muñoz said. 

"It’s been really great to see Anthony grow these last couple of years. He’s always been very knowledgeable with that experience," said Dottia Motl, a math teacher and agriculture lead on the community garden. 

Motl has also worked hand-in-hand with all of the students to make this effort possible. 

There will be a ribbon cutting for the program on Wednesday to celebrate the progress made as part of the grant at Vista Academy. 

Credit: KUSA

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