EAGLE-VAIL - Greens grown at the Eagle-Vail Community Garden will soon appear on the menus at Vin48, Grouse Mountain Grill and Splendido, as restaurant staff take to the soil this summer and tend to raised garden beds to grow their own specialty items.
"We'll grow squash blossoms because chef likes to stuff them with goat cheese, a couple different kinds of greens, like beet greens, mustard greens, bitter greens that go well with braised meats," said Collin Baugh, owner of Vin48. "I'll also plant seven different kinds of sunflowers for vases this fall."
Grouse Mountain Grill have committed to two raised beds at the Eagle-Vail garden, and Executive Chef David Gutowski said most of his kitchen staff had a garden as kids and are excited to start growing again.
"We love the farmers that we're working with, but it's fun to grow your own, even something as simple as a string bean, to know that we grew that string bean, to have that personal connection with the food your serving is something cool and different for us," Gutowski said.
Closing in on the final building stages, this summer marks the Eagle-Vail garden's first growing season. Organized by a core committee and built entirely by volunteer hands, when finished the garden will boast 60 four-by-eight-foot raised beds, 12 four-by-sixteen-foot "corporate" beds, set aside for businesses and organizations, and communal gardening areas, including demonstration gardens to host educational workshops.
A whopping 43 people have signed up for a raised bed this first year and only one of the corporate beds remains available. The high participation rate reflects a trend of communities across the country turning to neighborhood gardens both for a food source and a sense of community.
Next to the restaurants, Salvation Army will grow in four of the large corporate beds. The garden has partnered with the non-profit to host volunteers who will mentor Salvation Army families and together learn to grow their own food. They will share in the work and share in the harvest and any extra fresh produce will go back to the food bank.
"We are so excited to offer our clients the opportunity to grow their own food and to share their gardening expertise with us," said Tsu Wolin-Brown, director of the Vail Valley Salvation Army, who is working on starting a community garden specifically for the Salvation Army and food bank in Avon. "This is a terrific start to an entire network of community gardens throughout the valley and promises to promote healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle."
The communal areas and education aspect of the garden project received a boost this past spring when the garden committee received a grant from the Colorado Garden Show. The Eagle-Vail garden was the only Eagle County organization out of 47 statewide to receive a grant. The money will go toward shrubs, edibles and native perennials for the perimeter areas and demonstration garden, as well as educational signage to communicate all that a garden has to teach.
"We have supported the horticulture industry in Colorado for more than 30 years and look forward to delivering these much-needed funds every year," said Jim Fricke, Colorado Garden Show executive director. "We couldn't be more excited to support The Eagle-Vail Community Garden. They are a true asset to their community and we hope this grant helps them reach their gardening goals."
One goal is for the garden to serve not just as a place to grow food but a true community gathering space. The garden's calendar is filled with events, like workdays, workshops, fundraisers and even yoga, in hopes to attract a wide range of people to the site.
Eagle Valley Land Trust has partnered with Revolution Power Yoga to bring Yoga +Land to the garden every second and fourth Saturdays in June, July and August. The free classes will take place in the grassy park at the garden.
"The land trust has a goal to connect people to the land, and what better way to do it than yoga at a community garden right in our own backyard?" said Jason Denhart, director of communications and development at the land trust. "Revolution Power Yoga will also have a dedicated teacher for kids on those Saturdays, so the whole family can come out and practice."
Denhart and his wife, Farrah, are also garden members and have already planted beets, radishes, carrots and brussel sprouts in their raised beds.
Master Gardener Jean Couture Dziekan, who serves on the garden's organizing committee and as a garden steward, said it's inspiring to see so many different people lend a hand to make the project and its goals a reality.
"It fills my heart with joy and happiness, and I'm so proud to be a part of it," Dziekan said. "I'm so impressed all these people are coming together to do this ... it makes you wonder why it didn't happen sooner. It's just such a wonderful thing."
Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle, She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the Eagle-Vail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at email@example.com.