Shortly after moving to Summit County, a neighbor gave JoAnne Nadalin fresh peas from her garden.
“I thought they were so delicious I just had to have a garden,” Nadalin said.
When spring 2013 came around Nadalin stayed true to her word. She tended to her first-ever garden plot this season in Frisco’s Living Classroom garden, one of the five local gardens in the Summit Community Garden Network. The network is a product of the High Country Conservation Center and serves as a one-stop shop for local garden resources.
Nadalin took advantage of classes provided through the garden network this spring, attending a class for beginners, a garden design class and a presentation on soils. Nadalin also did research online.
The gardening newbie said the payback was great.
“I had the best radishes I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “The difference in the quality of food you get from having grown it locally is phenomenal.”
After a fruitful growing season, the High Country Conservation Center is now in the process of closing the community gardens for winter.
The community’s response to HC3’s sustainable food programs has been phenomenal, said Jen Santry, the nonprofit’s community programs director.
“People really connect to this program and get super-excited about it,” she said. “I’m shocked at how fast the program spread through the community and how many people continuously want to get involved.”
HC3 created the Summit Community Garden Network in early 2013 to provide a link among individual gardens.
“Before, every garden was floating around independently. It’s silly having so many people doing different things when we can do them together,” Santry said.
The garden network allows gardeners to pool resources, attend classes and events and expand the opportunities for local green thumbs.
“It really makes people feel like they are a part of something,” Santry said. “You feel the connection to your individual garden, but you can also expand on that by coming to classes or events and meeting new people and finding out what they’re doing.”
Nadalin said these resources contributed to the success of her first-ever garden.
“Anytime I had question about the garden or anything wasn’t going well Jen was a tremendous resource,” she said. “HC3 is also a tremendous resource for meeting other people who have similar interests.”
Since the creation of the garden network, HC3 partnered with community members to open the Dillon Valley Elementary Garden. They held a variety of classes about how best to create and utilize community gardens, including a series of food preservation classes wrapping up this month.
The garden network also included a Community Supported Agriculture program headed up by Colorado Mountain College students. The students not only ran the day-to-day gardening operations that provided fresh produce for the community, but also embarked on individual projects such as providing recipes to accompany produce in the CSA baskets, and developing the first-ever community seed bank.
Santry said she was impressed with the students’ abilities to take the reigns on the program.
“I made a few guidelines and it just took off,” she said. “The students really got engaged and involved in the greenhouses.”
Summit County’s local food movement also took a step forward with the county’s recent adoption of farm regulations. The new codes recognize the benefits of community gardens, and give room for the future development of a co-op where local food could be sold, Santry said. The rules also allow residents to raise a limited number of chickens and goats and to keep bees.
HC3’s efforts to promote small-scale farming and gardening is meant to create a connection between people and their food, Santry said. The community garden network can do that in a variety of ways.
“There are a couple things that can happen with the garden,” she said. “The first is, someone comes in, they do what they love and they keep coming back — which is great.”
Another portion of gardeners test out a community plot, learn from their neighbors and HC3, and go on to build a plot at home, she said. “That’s great too. We are still meeting our goals.”
Sometimes people find that gardening in the high country just isn’t for them.
“That’s fine. But I hope what they get out of that is that there’s energy that goes into growing food. It’s a process,” Santry said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from growing my own food is that I hate to put anything in the compost because I start thinking about the farmer, and how long it takes to grow even just a tomato, and I’m just amazed. Some people are completely disconnected from that, they have no idea. I hope the brief connection those gardeners had will last a lifetime in understanding the process.”
Next year, Santry said HC3 plans to continue developing the Community Garden Network and home in on opportunities for small-scale farming operations in Summit County.