From Carbondale to Parachute, gardens are cropping up all over the valley as a healthy living trend takes root to grow fruits and vegetables and share them within communities.
Helping spearhead the effort is Garfield County’s LiveWell program, an offshoot of LiveWell Colorado, which aims to reduce obesity in children and adults by promoting healthy eating and active living.
The county’s LiveWell recently announced the recipients of $20,000 in the first grant cycle for 2014 to eight organizations that demonstrated support of increasing healthy food consumption and activity levels, encouraged worksite wellness programs, and engaged schools and municipalities in upcoming events.
“We did not expect 17 applicants — it’s a bit overwhelming and I was shocked — but in a good way,” said Dana Wood, LiveWell Garfield County coordinator.
To receive the mini-grants, which range from $500 to $5,000, the applicants had to have at least 50 percent in matching money and/or be led by an active LiveWell Garfield County steering or coalition member. Preference was given to projects that increased access to and/or consumption of fruits and vegetables, increased physical activity among residents, and targeted schools or low-income populations.
The largest grant, $4,066, went to the town of New Castle Community Garden, a project that includes the cumulative efforts of three entities — the town of New Castle, River Center and the New Castle Garden Club.
“This is a perfect opportunity for these organizations to produce food for the people of New Castle,” said Greg Russi, a former town trustee who wrote the grant application. “This will be a permanent, ongoing amenity for downtown New Castle for the residents and the people served by the River Center. This is genuinely the property of the townspeople.”
The 34-by-58-foot garden will be located in front of the River Center on Fourth Street. River Center, founded in 2009, is a community outreach center that matches resources with those in need and offers emergency assistance among other services.
Andy Womack is a hands-on volunteer and experienced gardener helping to design and build the garden. He said a big part of the New Castle Community Garden is not only providing nutritious food, but in teaching people how to garden and grow their own food.
“It’s not a huge garden, but it’s enough to get them started to learn,” Womack said. “We can show people how easy it can be. This is a trend that is starting to help our culture. Eating healthy and getting outside is a building block to a healthy community.”
In Rifle, several gardening projects are under way, some through Growing Food Forward, which was founded three years ago by Kim Wille. Through donated seeds, Growing Food Forward last year grew and distributed more than 3,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The group received a $4,000 LiveWell grant for projects in Rifle and throughout the county in partnership with schools, Rifle Growing Community Gardens and LIFT-UP.
On Tuesday morning, members of Growing Food Forward and some kids from YouthZone joined together at the Veteran’s State Nursing Home to plant fruits and vegetables in a reserved garden area, which will be split by both groups.
“This is our first time planting at the Veteran’s Nursing Home,” Wille said. “These will be salad gardens — we’re planting Roma tomatoes, Swiss chard and things that grow in shady areas. We’ll give half to the veterans and half to the kids. For some of these kids, it may be the only meal of fresh food they get all day.”
Growing Food Forward and Rifle Growing Community Gardens also started an “edible garden” in front of Mancinelli’s Pizza on Railroad Avenue, which will be used as a teaching garden to educate kids on how and where foods come from.
Edible gardens are also planned near the Smoke Shop Etc. on West Fourth Street and at the Rifle Public Library.
Other recipients of the LiveWell mini-grants include:
• $3,094 — Rifle Lemonade Stand at the Rifle Farmer’s Market to raise money for food stamp recipients to shop for fresh produce at the market.
• $2,000 — Fat City Farmers and Garfield County Library District for a patio garden at Silt library and workshops based on garden activities. Growing food will be tied together with summer reading activities.
• $1,000 — Garfield CLEER Energy’s Bike and Walk to School Challenge for prizes to schools.
• $2,740 — Re-2 Got Lunch program, which partners with Grand River Hospital District and receives input from students on lunch recipes and offerings. Its goal is to increase participation in the lunch program.
• $2,000 — Abundance Garden at Methodist Church in Parachute. Partners are church members, Growing Food Forward, District 16 and local gardeners, which would like to eventually offer some cooking classes, too.
• $1,100 — Family Visitor Program’s “Eating Smart Being Active” program. Family Visitor will use this curricula to educate families with young children on a healthy lifestyle countywide.
“This is definitely a growing trend,” Wood said. “We want to make sure everybody in the county is eating healthy food and getting exercise to help combat the issue of obesity. And we want everyone to come together and help everyone else.”