High Country Conservation Center quadruples growing space for local farm shares
Every week for the last few summers, a couple dozen Summit County residents have come to collect locally grown bounty — lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, kale, broccoli, peas and other organic vegetables produced in three small Frisco greenhouses.
Most of Summit CSA’s customers had never heard of community-supported agriculture (CSA).
They wanted to grow their own food but didn’t have the time or space. They didn’t want to support corporate agribusiness and desired to reduce the distance their produce traveled from farm to fork. They yearned to better understand where their veggies came from and explore new recipes.
In a CSA model, people buy a share from a local farm for the entire growing season, and the commitment lets the farm and its subscribers share the risk and reward of the harvest.
“Locally-sourced fresh vegetables is a big appeal to me,” said Marisa Soltis, a Dillon resident who has bought Summit CSA shares since the program started in 2012. “The prices are great; I get to go to the greenhouses myself and see my veggies growing, and, honestly, it’s some of the best produce I’ve ever eaten.”
Summit CSA, the only CSA in the county, soon became a program of the nonprofit High Country Conservation Center (HC3), and word of the 25 available farm shares spread quickly.
About 45 to 50 people have been on the waitlist each season, which reflects growing national demand for sustainable agriculture and local food.
Starting in May 2016, HC3 will be better equipped to meet that demand after finishing a $100,000 greenhouse expansion project that will quadruple growing capacity. Volunteers started building the organizations three new, larger greenhouses on Wednesday, Sept. 16, on county land next to the Frisco Transfer Center.
Jessie Burley, HC3’s community programs manager, said one of the best parts about expanding Summit CSA is also increasing the amount of food the program donates to local families in need.
The majority of Summit CSA’s expansion has been funded by Freeport-McMoRan. The parent company of the nearby Climax Molybdenum mine donated $63,000. Breckenridge Grand Vacations also donated $10,000, and the Jane Alexandra Storm Foundation donated $1,000.
The project has received support from local landscaping companies, and the Breckenridge Restaurant Association pledged $3,000 toward the project, Burley said. Future plans for the CSA include selling produce to local restaurants and at farmers markets.
County assistant manager Thad Noll said the county has supported Summit CSA with direct funding, free land and in-kind donations.
“It cuts down the giant supply chain we’ve got” and the energy consumption required to ship food across the country or world, he said. “People start to realize, ‘I can grow these things in my backyard.’`”
Burley said volunteers will be needed through next week to build 18-inch tall raised beds inside the structures, and the greenhouses will be covered in plastic in the spring. The new greenhouses should increase the CSA’s growing season by a couple weeks.
This summer, CSA customers receive harvest shares for 15 weeks from June through October. The shares came in two sizes, and the larger size, which is meant to feed three to four people, cost $375, or $25 broken down weekly. The smaller share, meant for one or two people, cost $180 or $12 a week.
The CSA will offer about 75 farm-shares in 2016.
Breckenridge resident Devon Diaz said she was surprised by the CSA’s quantity and glad it has helped her increase variety in her diet and explore different foods in the kitchen with her family.
“It’s wonderful. You don’t know what you’re getting. We’ve learned how to cook different recipes,” she said, with foods like bok choy that she wouldn’t have bought at the grocery store.
Interns from Colorado Mountain College assist CSA farmer Kyla Laplante, who said the students can introduce their peers to the farm-share concept. She added that the organization is doing something unique because little research exists on growing food at such a high altitude in the new greenhouses.
LUXURY FOOD DONATIONS
Hopefully, visibility of the new greenhouses will prompt people to ask questions and learn more, said Sherie Sobke, an HC3 board member and owner of Alpine Gardens and Earth Center in Silverthorne, as she placed metal pipes and other greenhouse materials at the site Wednesday.
“Our food has a lot of issues, and anytime you can get it closer to home or cleaner is good,” she said. However, “clean food often is a luxury of people with time and education.”
That’s why she’s glad the CSA also grows food for low-income residents through HC3’s Grow to Share program, which donates excess produce from the CSA and HC3’s community gardens to the county’s Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program as well as Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) cooking classes.
WIC is a supplemental food and nutritional program through the county’s Public Health Department for women, infants and children at nutritional risk. The service provides low-income families with nutrition education, breastfeeding resources, health care referrals and supplemental healthy foods.
The FIRC’s Cooking Matters classes teach local parents about cooking and nutrition and sends them home with groceries.
This year, the CSA and community gardens have donated close to 200 pounds of fresh food through the WIC program and about 50 pounds through the cooking classes.
For more information about the program or to sponsor, donate or volunteer, visit High Country Conservation Center’s website highcountryconservation.org, call the center at (970) 668-5703 or email Jessie Burley at email@example.com.
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