Gardeners recruited to feed Aspen-area’s hungry
The Aspen Times
HOW TO HELP
To learn more about the efforts of Growing Food Forward from Aspen to Parachute, visit http://www.growingfoodforward.org
Although snow is piling up throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, an effort is well under way to enlist 500 gardeners to help feed the Aspen-area’s hungry this spring and summer.
A nonprofit organization called Growing Food Forward is aiming for extensive expansion of its core program to provide gardeners from Aspen to Parachute with seeds. In return, growers are asked to share their bounty with food pantries operated throughout the region by LIFT-UP and with the hungry directly.
Growing Food Forward director Kim Doyle Wille said the economy of the region has bounced back, but many workers haven’t seen wages increase. They are still struggling to get by.
Wille, a former Aspen resident now living in El Jebel, launched the seed-sharing program in 2013. About 200 gardeners volunteered that summer. The number sagged to about 130 last year because Wille was focused on working with community partners to build 102 raised beds where veggies and greens were raised for the effort.
Even with reduced numbers of growers, about 8,000 pounds of produce from gardeners associated with the program was donated to LIFT-UP, according to Wille.
This year, Growing Food Forward’s gardens are established, so Wille reset her sights on recruiting backyard growers. She said winter is brutal on the diets of poor people. Cuts to federal food-stamp programs make it difficult for families to buy produce. Poor families tend to lean too much on fast food and junk food, according to Wille.
But her experience shows that people will choose fresh produce when it is available. LIFT-UP was initially reluctant to accept produce because officials perceived there would be a storage issue.
“What Carbondale learned is (produce) goes out as fast as it comes in,” Wille said. Now, LIFT-UP welcomes produce.
She also enlists school-aged children to help grow food in Growing Food Forward’s raised beds. The kids get inspired to eat what they grow, she said.
“Our big mission here is to have leafy greens available as soon as the kids are out of school,” she said.
As many as 73 percent of children depend on free or reduced priced lunches at some downvalley schools, Wille said. Without that aid, many of them will go underfed or unfed on summer days, she said.
Seed-sorting and distribution gatherings have been held already in Rifle and New Castle. “We had 49 people show up in Rifle,” Wille said. “That was more than double what we did in Rifle last year.”
Growers are given seeds and directions on when to plant at their altitude and how to care for the plants. Seed sorting and distribution will be held at the Pitkin County Library in Aspen from 3-5 p.m. March 14.
Seeds were provided by BBB Seed in Boulder, Botanical Interests in Broomfield and Baker Creek Rare Seeds in California. Gardeners pledge to follow practices to grow organic foods.
Consortiums of gardeners called Growing Communities are being established in each of the towns where Growing Food Forward works. The idea is to create a clearinghouse where people can exchange gardening strategies and seek advice for growing problems.
Annie Pausback of Snowmass Village is helping organize a Growing Community for the upper valley.
“We’re looking for people who have interest,” she said. “Expertise would be lovely. We’ll take interest.”
She is contacting people she knows that garden and approaching organizers of upper valley communities gardens. She said anyone else interested in the effort can go to the Aspen-Snowmass Village Growing Community page on Facebook to learn more about the effort.
Creating the Growing Communities will be one of the keys to enlisting 500 growers, according to Wille. People embrace the idea when they learn about it and discover they won’t be out on their own trying to figure out high-altitude gardening.
“They want to get healthy,” Wille said. “They want to learn to grow their own food. They want to help their neighbors.”
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