MARVEL - There's no soccer or afternoon television for members of the Dirt Club at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School.
Instead, when classes are out, the youngsters revel in digging their hands into dirt made of coconut coir fiber, peat moss and perlite or a mixture of pumice and compost in which they grow vegetables and flowers.
"We'll be moving all the plants to the greenhouse in a couple of weeks," said Janine Collins, one of the 10 or so volunteer moms who oversee Dirt Club activities, as she directed a dozen students in filling strawberry basket-sized containers with soil and water seedlings.
"We had to get the greenhouse windows sealed after wind caused damage," she said.
The flower and vegetable plants will be ready for sale around Mother's Day.
The income buys seeds and material.
Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary came by the greenhouse a few years ago when Miller Middle School wanted to get rid of it, Collins said. It replaced a dilapidated one Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary had for a number of years.
Baskets of seedlings - hundreds of them - are occupying a temporary home in a classroom and a hallway. Dirt Club students working Monday ranged in age from kindergarten through fifth-grade.
"I like planting," said Emmagrace Fitzgerald, 6, a first-grader. "I've planted tomatoes and wheat grass."
Emmagrace said she would like to grow corn when she is older.
Jassana Baizel, a 10-year-old fourth-grader, is an enthusiastic dirt digger.
"I like getting my hands in the dirt," Jassana said. "This is my first year in the Dirt Club, but I've planted cactuses."
While some Dirt Club members worked with the plants, others painted decorations on one wall of the greenhouse.
The decorated wall had been whitewashed to reflect the sun's harshest rays.
Children in the 9-R School District's after-school Kid's Camp and other kids waiting for parents to pick them up can join in the fun with the Dirt Club members.
Shari Fitzgerald, a founder of the Garden Project of Southwest Colorado in 1998 and Emmagrace's mother, said the Dirt Club grows plants for the Manna Soup Kitchen, Needham Elementary School and The Commons gardens as well as Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary's 10,000-square-foot garden.
The large garden was established by a grant from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The goals of the Garden Club of Southwest Colorado during its first years was to introduce low-income and at-risk children to backyard gardening, Fitzgerald said.
Only in the last two to three years did the club start working with public schools, she said.