Recent trends in organic foods and sustainable farming have appeared in communities across the nation, including Summit County. The High Country Conservation Center is taking steps to expand its programs and increase these options in 2013.
The High Country Conservation Center, known locally as HC3, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting solutions to and improving awareness of resource conservation. Underneath its umbrella are a multitude of programs that stretch throughout the county, from composting, recycling and waste reduction to energy conservation and more. HC3 is responsible for events, awareness projects and educational workshops on a variety of environmental and healthy topics.
Summit County currently boasts four different community gardens: Silvana's Community Garden in Silverthorne, Nancy's Community Garden and the Living Classroom in Frisco and the Breckenridge Community Garden at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Breck. Plans are also in place to add a fifth community garden at Dillon Valley Elementary School this spring, which will expand the school's current garden dome and allow Dillon Valley residents access.
The Living Classroom is housed at HC3 headquarters on Frisco's Main Street and is the location for many educational classes about sustainable gardening and organic produce. It was created in 2011 and consists of a greenhouse and 20 plots. A "plot" is a single section (of varying sizes, depending on the garden) which can be owned or co-owned by community members wanting to grow their own garden.
"Really what we do is provide the space and the soil and the educational programs," said Jennifer Santry, community programs director of HC3.
Plot owners pay a fee for their plot and then are free to plant whatever they want, with a few small restrictions (no marijuana plants, for example). Educational classes are available for first-time gardeners, or people who want help planning out their garden.
"We try to teach people to take advantage of space and figure out how to plant it out," Santry said.
Plot owners then are free to do whatever they want with the food produced from their plants - take it home, swap with fellow gardeners for variety, give it away to friends or even donate it to local community dinners and food banks.
HC3 works with the community gardens under a group called the Summit Community Garden Network. Through the network the gardens share resources and volunteers and in the future may plan events together. As the popularity of the community gardens grows, the network will serve to bring everyone together, Santry said.
"What we're looking to do is to help educate people that sustainable agriculture is possible up here in the High Country," said Meredith Long, president of Silvana's Community Garden in Silverthorne.
Community supported agriculture, or CSA, is a nationwide trend that allows people who do not have the space available for gardening or farming, such as those living in urban areas, to become involved in local farming practices and benefit from it. Those who want to buy in are called shareholders. They pay the CSA a certain amount of money for the season upfront. Then, after the food is grown and harvested, the shareholders receive a portion of the harvest.
"As a share member, they are investing in the program and then they are paying somebody to harvest for them," Santry explained. "They're buying into the farm."
Last year saw the first CSA in Summit County in the form of WisePlant Farm, which grew out of Nancy's Community Garden in Frisco. This year, HC3 will be taking over the project, renaming it Summit CSA, with the hopes of expanding throughout the county.
"We stepped in to see how we could expand it and make it also educational," Santry said. "This year's going to be great. (We) learned what worked and what didn't."
Currently, the CSA is a pick-up program, where shareholders come out to the garden to pick up their share of the produce. Other programs throughout the state and nation include a delivery service, which could potentially happen in Summit County, where shareholders' fresh organic food is delivered right to their door.
The CSA concept isn't limited to plants alone, but can apply to animals as well. HC3 is currently working with the Swan Center Outreach to try to set up a CSA involving chickens and other farm animals. Essentially, a shareholder would own or partially own a chicken. The bird would be housed and cared for at the Swan Center and the shareholder would get the eggs that the chicken produces.
"We're looking at chickens within the next two months," said Kelly West, caretaker at Swan Center Outreach. Plans are in the works to build the chicken coops and also to set aside an area for planting and raising other farm animals, including beehives. The center is planning plenty of education workshops and opportunities around these changes as well.
"I'm really passionate about this stuff," West said. "I've lived in Silverthorne for maybe five years. It's so hard in town to have land or space to do these things. It's a great opportunity."
Santry and the HC3 are hoping to receive countywide community involvement and possibly form some partnerships outside the county as well, with neighboring Lake and Eagle counties.
"That's the ultimate goal," Santry said. "We can all work together and grow our own food."