TELLURIDE – With its octagonal angles and iridescent silver sheen, the structure perched on the hillside behind the Telluride Middle/High School looks more like a spaceship than an outdoor classroom.
From the outside, it’s impossible to know what this shiny half-dome might be hiding. But open the door to the Telluride Schools’ new Grow Dome, and there is an unexpected paradise.
Golden calibrachoa and purple petunia blossoms cascade from hanging baskets strung from the rafters. Suspended strawberry plants shoot streamers of dark green leaves and glossy ruby fruit into the humid air. Pea plants’ nimble tendrils reach upward from terraced planter beds that hug the walls, joined by sunny yellow calendula flowers, broccoli crowns, tufts of radish greens and wispy carrot tops, all stretching upward in various stages of growth. In the center, a large, circular raised bed contains a kaleidoscope of color and texture, from ruffled Red Russian kale to flimsy baby onion shoots to a range of lettuce hues.
The whole circumference of the dome is a sensuous blast of green, sprinkled with a variegated helping of white, yellow, red, purple, and orange.
With a classroom like this, it’s no wonder that Leah Lauritzen’s seventh-grade Health Sciences students moan with disappointment when the bell rings outside, indicating it’s time for them to leave. They run their fingers tenderly over the sea of edible plants as they rise from the low brick retaining wall that doubles as a bench, filing slowly towards the comparatively drab landscape outside.
“We can be late for our next class!” one boy chirps hopefully on his way out, noting that they still hadn’t had time to take a magnified look at some of the Dome’s resident ladybugs munching on aphids.
Ramona Gaylord shoos them out, assuring them there will be many more opportunities to have class in the Grow Dome.
Gaylord is the Grow Dome’s resident biologist, teacher, coordinator, and caretaker. Her job is to assist teachers who want to incorporate anything Grow Dome-related into their curriculum. And there are many lessons to be learned from the Grow Dome, Gaylord says, noting that no fewer than 10 teachers had already held class in the Dome. And it’s not just plant biology they’re learning about: classes have talked about the physics of thermal heat collection, they’ve read nature poetry, and discussed the importance of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet.
“They touch, they plant, they water, they harvest – it’s an old cliché, but it really works here: This is a true example in hands-on learning,” Gaylord says.
The Telluride Schools’ Grow Dome was funded by the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP), a U.S. Department of Education initiative that provides grants to communities in an effort to promote healthy active lifestyles for kids nationwide.
The three-year PEP grant was awarded to the Telluride Medical Center in 2010, for kids grades K-12 in the Telluride and Norwood school districts. The focus of PEP is to initiate, expand, or enhance physical education and nutrition programs in schools as a way to promote healthy and active lifestyles.
Kris Holstrom, the Executive Director and Sustainability Coordinator at EcoAction Partners (a Telluride-based nonprofit providing education and support of sustainability initiatives within the community), was a leading proponent of the Grow Dome and helped organize its construction. She says the addition of the Dome to local schools’ curricula is a big step for sustainability education community-wide.
“What we are doing is what I envisioned long ago, in that students are engaged, they are excited, about growing local food,” she says. Food grown in the Dome goes to the school cafeteria, and during the summer will either go home with student volunteers or be sold by students, possibly at the Telluride Farmers Market.
To celebrate the completion of the Grow Dome, the greenhouse will be open for tours and an Open House celebration Wednesday, May 22, at 3:30 p.m. The event is open to the public and all students and their families are also invited to attend.
With MountainFilm just around the corner, and the lofty message of Climate Solutions headlining its Moving Mountains Symposium, the timing of Grow Dome’s Grand Opening is apt, Gaylord says.
“This is iconic, in that it can be a big solution for Telluride,” as part of the community’s quest to become more sustainable, she says.