Over the course of a decade, Linda Halloran has grown Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s plant sale from an idea to a major annual event. She’s overseen every sale since its inception, but when it rolls around this Saturday, a new generation will be at the helm.
Sarah Legg, a 23-year-old University of Wyoming graduate, took over as director of the CRMS garden program in January. She found out about the opening online, and called the position her “dream job.” Legg had been looking for a gig that combined agriculture and education, but it had to be in the Rockies.
“It’s where I grew up, and I’ve always kind of known I was a mountain person,” she said.
Legg’s first trip to the Roaring Fork Valley was her interview for the position. Halloran was personally involved in the hiring process, as well as Legg’s training. “I put a lot of time into that project, and I want to see it succeed,” Halloran explained.
The pair overlapped for a week, and Halloran has been back a few times to help with things like starting up the irrigation. She seems happy with her replacement and optimistic about the future of the program.
“Sarah is young, she’s smart, and she’s got that academic background, which I didn’t have,” Halloran said. “I think she’ll approach it more as scientist.”
Halloran, who is trained is an English teacher, was asked to care for the school’s small garden shortly after she started in the mid ’90s. She later put in a proposal for a garden program expansion and a plant sale. “It really seemed to fit with the school’s mission,” she said. “This whole idea of sustainability was being articulated and developed naturally, and we were just kind of on the front end of that, instead of playing catch up.”
Halloran credited John and Anne Holden, who founded the school, with laying the groundwork. The CRMS property was originally a working ranch, and potatoes were planted on what is now the garden plot. The Holdens even hired a full-time organic gardener in the late ’60s, and the school was already composting when Halloran arrived.
“There’s always been that environmental focus on the part of the school,” she observed.
The part-time job became full time, then summer interns were added. A few years ago, they doubled the size of the plot and doubled production. Last fall, Halloran decided it was time to hang up her sun hat.
“It gets harder to spend 10-hour days in the heat of the summer doing essentially grunt work,” she explained.
Legg brings a degree in agroecology and boundless enthusiasm to the position. She has educational experience as a science tutor and a teaching assistant, and worked on the University of Wyoming’s student farm for three years. She originally was declared a molecular biology major, but was inspired toward agriculture during a two-week trip to Kenya, touring operations from subsistence farms to tea plantations.
“It really made me realize the importance of food and the power of food,” she said.
Although her new place in Carbondale doesn’t allow for a garden, Legg maintains her passion for everything food-related.
“I love to grow food, I love to cook food, I love to eat food, and I love to teach about food,” she said. “I was really lucky to find this job where the agricultural component is really integrated with the educational curriculum.”
The CRMS plant sale runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, May 17, and from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, May 18. The greenhouse is located near the entrance to campus at 500 Holden Way in Carbondale.
In addition to annual and perennial decorative plants, the sale hosts a broad selection of vegetables and herbs, as well as seed potatoes and onion plants.
The Carbondale Clay Center will also be on site, selling planters and flower pots.
Everything is organically grown and GMO free, including 48 different types of tomatoes with a selection of heirlooms, which Legg says are often hardier, more cold tolerant, and, most importantly, tastier. There’s also heirloom rhubarb from a homestead along Snowmass Creek.
Proceeds support the garden program and the school.
The program involves growing food for the Bar Fork, CRMS’s cafeteria, collecting and maintaining the compost, and, of course, preparing for the next plant sale.
“There’s no way I could have done the plant sale without the students,” said Legg. “I’m trying to teach the students a lot of the principles behind those things so it’s not just work in their minds,” she added.