Making Rifle healthy and delicious |

Making Rifle healthy and delicious

From left, Tricia Cleis and Andrea Matthews sort through packets of vegetable seeds while preparing for a kick-off meeting and seed swap for their recently-formed Rifle Growing Community local foods effort. The program hopes to encourage local residents and businesses to plant and grow fresh fruit and vegetables.
Mike McKibbin/Citizen Telegram |

Rifle GROWING Community meeting & seed swap

When: Noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 29

Where: Rifle Branch Library, 207 East Ave.

What: A meeting, organic potluck and seed swap. Learn about the group’s opportunities and needs this spring. Please bring any extra organic non-GMO seeds to swap or donate, as well as an organic snack or dish to share, if you are able, but not required. Bring friends and neighbors, children welcome, too.

Questions: Andrea Matthews, (720) 473-2670, or Tricia Cleis, (970) 274-3078

Andrea Matthews and Tricia Cleis want to make Rifle delicious and healthy.

The two friends hope to do so by starting a “local food” movement in Rifle, similar to efforts across America, in England and other countries around the world.

“We saw a need and feel like we know how to grow food,” Cleis said. “There’s a wealth of knowledge in this farming community, which is how Rifle started.”

This past year, Matthews and Cleis started “Rifle GROWING Community,” a non-political group of local farmers, home gardeners, organizations and businesses with several goals: to promote and develop a culture and opportunities for growing food, cooking and sourcing local products, to build on Rifle’s voluntary sector engagement, develop new links and partners concerned with the future of growing food, educating the public and stimulating the local economy.

The group will hold a kick-off meeting, organic potluck and seed swap on Saturday, March 29, at the Rifle Branch Library.

Matthews has lived in Rifle for six years and was a vendor at the Rifle Centennial Market the past two years. She is now on the committee for this year’s new Rifle Farmers Market, which will be held this summer at the community lot at Second Street and Railroad Avenue.

“We know we need to start small, but so many people have so many bigger ideas on how we can get this going,” Matthews said.

One step soon to be taken is to file paperwork so Rifle GROWING Community is an official nonprofit organization and eligible to seek grant money, she added.

Cleis said they would also like to create a map to help people find local eggs, meats and “who grows what.”

“It’s kind of revamping the city to what Rifle used to be,” Matthews said. “I grew up on the East Slope, but I fell in love with this town when my husband was transferred. I just think there’s no better way to get a community together today than growing and eating healthy food.”

So far, the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, Rifle Branch Library and City of Rifle have donated planter space for organic fruit, vegetables, herbs and seedlings, she said, and around 10 businesses and the Downtown Development Authority have expressed support.

“We can see planters just overflowing with zucchini and signs saying ‘OK to harvest’,” Matthews said. “It’s kind of like the old Victory Gardens in World War II. But we don’t want to be in your face; we just want to make Rifle delicious.”

Volunteers would plant, water, weed and otherwise nurture the plants throughout the summer. Excess harvest would be donated to churches and groups like LIFT-UP, Matthews added.

The two women also plan to set up a “seed library” — similar to one at the library in Basalt — in Rifle and Parachute, where backyard gardeners can go to exchange seeds.

Cleis moved to Rifle two years ago, after driving through the city several times as a semi-truck driver.

“I always thought ‘that looks like a nice place to live’,” she said.

Cleis is working on a sustainability degree at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle and hopes to combine her education with the group’s efforts.

“We’re not experts, but I’ve helped a few other gardeners,” she said. “I’ve found that, really, you can grow food anywhere. You just need to know how.”

Cleis also works in the lunchroom at Graham Mesa Elementary School, where she sees many students pick up food prepared by The ROC Center in Rifle. That nonprofit group prepares take-home meals for low-income students so they have nutritious food on Fridays, when school is not held, and over the weekends.

“But so many times, what they end up eating is not fresh food,” Cleis said. “And there are families that don’t even know how to cook, unless something is frozen or comes out of a box.”

The group is also working with state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, on a farm-to-school initiative, she added.

The group’s Facebook page had more than 70 people “like” the group in three days, so Matthews and Cleis believe they can get many more people involved.

Matthews said she feels the group can make a “fantastic” impact in their first growing season this spring.

“We really want to make Rifle tasty,” Matthews said. “And they say you can get good therapy by growing tomatoes, getting your hands dirty.”

Matthews added the group plans to hold children’s activities at the summer farmers markets, to help kids learn about vegetables and fruit and how to grow their own food.

“We want to have dentists talk to them about how important it is to eat healthy foods and what happens to their teeth when they don’t,” she said.

Taste tests of locally grown vegetables compared to those bought in a grocery store may be held at farmers markets as well, Matthews said.

A community composting facility is among the group’s longer range plans, Matthews said.

While the goals of Rifle GROWING Community may seem lofty, for Cleis and Matthews, it’s not daunting.

“This is a passion,” Cleis said.

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