Eagle County’s community gardens in full summer bloom
Community comes first as gardens throughout Eagle County are producing fresh veggies for their growers. While many locals pay for a personal or shared garden plot to grow and harvest their own bounty through the summer, their armfuls of veggies are often helping others to get their fill of fresh produce.
Patricia Esperon is on the board of Eagle Community Gardens and has had her current plot since 2015.
“When we moved back into town, we didn’t have a garden,” she said. “We live just down the road from the community garden, and there’s irrigation and a fence, which makes it really attractive.”
For those who have an apartment or town home, or if you don’t have the time or money to construct your own garden, then community garden plots offer space for planting, and plenty of neighborly connection.
“We have a Facebook page, so if someone is out of town, they can ask other gardeners to check their bed,” Esperon said. “Or we can put the word out if we have an abundance of something, like too much kale or too much arugula, and you can trade with people, too.”
Esperon said the Eagle Community Gardens have continued to add social events such as brunch, kids gardening classes and The Salsa, where everyone brings different kinds of salsas and things to dip from their gardens while listening to salsa music, of course.
The Eagle gardens have a free seed box to share extras, a communal compost pile and a new “food forest” built by Bryon Wooters based on the permaculture design.
“We will eventually have mature fruit trees, and some hazelnuts and berry bushes,” Esperon said. “Anyone in the community gardens can take from that, and we will give some to the food bank. Whenever we have extra produce, we can give it to local food banks.”
Harvest for all
Emma Von Arx manages the community garden for the Vail Valley Salvation Army in Avon. She also runs all of the garden’s free educational programs.
“The community garden is owned and operated by the Salvation Army,” Von Arx said, “but people from the general public can purchases plots. And then we subsidize plots to make them $5 for people who come into the Salvation Army.”
She said less than half of the plots are subsidized, so mostly people are paying full price for a plot.
“We have a little free library, a kids area, a composting garden — different things like that that people can use while they are there,” she said.
Produce For Pantries is a program in Eagle County and in Colorado that provides healthy fruits and vegetables for communities.
“We have little cards that people can put in their plot, so we can harvest a certain item from their plot if they indicate that they have extra,” she said. “And we can put it in our fridge in the Salvation Army so people can have fresh produce.”
The Salvation Army garden also has a greenhouse, and all the produce grown there goes straight to the pantry.
Samantha Biszantz, co-owner of Root & Flower in Vail Village, finally got a plot in the West Vail community garden after being on the waitlist for several years. She is sharing her plot with her friend, West Vail resident Kirsten Dobroth, to make the maintenance more manageable.
“And once things start coming up, there will be bounties,” she said, “so it will be nice to share.”
Their plot this summer will include spinach, mixed green mix, cauliflower, yellow summer squash, jalepeno peppers, beets, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and a few different kinds of herbs. Biszantz said she will likely end up giving some of it away, and may take some to Root & Flower for the chef to use there.
Biszantz said she is impressed with the organization of the garden and the volunteer program (every gardener is required to donate a little time during the summer), and she also appreciates the camaraderie and loyal pride of the gardeners.
“Sometimes you see ladies sitting there having wine or cocktails by their plot, so Kirsten and I are planning to do that, and we’ll watch our plants grow,” Biszantz said with laugh.
Back in Eagle, Esperon gets plenty of personal use from her garden plot, and what hits the table all depends upon what’s growing.
“I use my meals around what’s available in my garden,” she said. “So a lot of time if the arugula, or if I know carrots are going to be available, then I will plan what meal I am going to make around that. Salad greens are available all the time, and sometimes I do a big harvest of kale and then make a bunch of kale chips.”
Esperon teaches gardening and nutrition to kids, and she’ll buy a box of spinach at the store, and then bring in a bunch of what she’s grown, and she’ll have them do a taste test.
“Mine has an apple taste to it,” she said, “and they can definitely tell the difference.”
Beyond all the harvesting, sharing, eating and preparing that these gardens throughout the community inspire, participating is also an effective way to improve your green thumb.
“Being a gardener is not something you arrive at — you never arrive at being a good gardener,” Esperon said, “you just constantly grow and improve based on where you are.”