Community gardens prepare to open, help fight rising costs for nutritious foods
In a time where grocery store prices are rising with each passing month, community gardens in Summit County could provide relief for residents and families looking to curb part of their growing grocery bills.
Currently, there are several community gardens in Summit County, including ones in Dillon, Silverthorne, Breckenridge and Frisco. Linda Oliver, president of the steering committee for Leslie’s Garden, a community garden in Dillon, said that even though Summit County is a high-altitude community, there’s still ample opportunities to grow food that’s better fit for the mountains.
Specifically, local gardeners have better luck with produce like greens such as spinach and kale, radishes and snow peas. Though this climate can not grow every type of vegetable, she said, community gardens do give residents an opportunity to supplement their diets with vegetables they may not buy outside of growing seasons.
“I probably don’t buy snow peas during the year, period, but I grow them every year in the garden because they grow so wonderfully in the climate that we have,” Oliver said. “You know, starting in August, I can just go down there every day and eat them off the vine.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, families spend about 11.9% of their expenditures on food. For the past 20 years, it has been constantly ranked the third largest consumer spending category, just behind housing and transportation.
In its consumer price report for March, the USDA estimates that food-at-home prices this year will increase between 3-4%, and food-away-from-home prices are predicted to increase between 5.5-6.5%. Compared to meat, prices of vegetables and fruit are expected to go up at a lower rate, but still rise by at least 1-2%.
“These aggregate price increases were the result of increases across many of the food categories rather than one or a few categories,” the report reads. “The impacts of the conflict in Ukraine and the recent increases in interest rates by the Federal Reserve are expected to put upward and downward pressures on food prices, respectively. The situations will be closely monitored to assess the net impacts of these concurrent events on food prices as they unfold.”
Oliver said that gardening their own vegetables has allowed her and her colleagues to better afford fresh produce in the summer, which directly had an impact on their diets. She said that, surprisingly, she has netted two seasons worth of good fingerling potato harvests, and when she harvested them in September, she was able to eat them through March.
“I was talking to one of the fellow gardeners who’s been on the board and been here for a while, and she said they feel in the summer that they eat a lot healthier,” Oliver said. “There’s a salad in their diet every day because that’s their main source of what we can grow up here.”
Currently, there are various resources for residents looking to grow their own food. Community garden plots fill up fast, but Oliver encourages anyone interested in gardening to look out for ways to begin one at home.
“People who are conscious of saving their seeds and doing it from season to season are definitely making out like bandits,” Oliver said. “I think in the big picture, especially, just one lettuce plant — if you properly harvest the leaves — they grow back throughout the years. One seed could give you multiple heads of lettuce throughout the summer if you harvest it the correct way. As we know right now, some of those bags of lettuce and things like that are up to $4 or $5.”
Community gardens in Summit County also contribute to the Grow to Share program, which provides fresh produce and other food-related resources to lower-income families. Last summer, 1,453 pounds of produce was donated to local families.
Like Oliver, Rachel Zerowin, community programs director for High Country Conservation Center, said that people who garden their own vegetables should not solely rely on it to provide all of the produce that they may need, but community gardens are a great way to supplement their diets with vegetables they already planned on buying or consuming. With that also comes local environmental benefits.
“With a community garden, your spinach might be just down the street,” she said. “Whereas greens grown in California, those traveled more than 1,200 miles to get to your plate in a refrigerated truck, not to mention all the transferring and processing that happens along the way.”
For beginners, Zerowin suggests looking for cool-season vegetables that are better-suited for Summit County’s cool weather. With those kinds of vegetables, they are more likely to see success, which encourages them to keep growing, she said.
“I think that especially in those first years, really focusing on the vegetables that grow well in our environment is going to bring you the most success, and there’s a lot of good ones,” she said.
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