Earth Day at 50 sees surging interest in growing food in Roaring Fork Valley
What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to prep the ground to grow your own food?
A farm in the Crystal Valley 6 miles south of Carbondale and its nonprofit sister are experiencing growing interest this spring in the number of people acquiring seeds and seedlings of plants adapted to handle the area’s high elevation climate.
“We’re seeing a surge in seed purchases. That’s a trend across the industry,” Wild Mountain Seeds co-owner Casey Piscura said recently.
Farmers who have heard about the company’s adapted seeds and plants as well as a lot of new gardeners are placing orders to prepare for growing season. A larger number of people are concerned with getting their food from a known and reliable source during the pandemic, so they want to grow their own, Piscura said. His small staff is scrambling to fulfill seed orders at the same time they are tending to transplants and getting ready to plant their 3 acres of leased land at Sunfire Ranch.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Piscura said of the crunch. “We are a small farm trying to do it all.”
Piscura said the farm is especially known for its heirloom tomatoes, bred to thrive in the Roaring Fork basin’s short growing season and cold soil temperatures. It can take years of breeding different plants to perfect them for the area, he said.
On the Wild Mountain Seeds website (www.wildmountainseeds.com), there is an intriguing gallery of photos for the new varieties of produce for 2020. Seeds are available for the Sunfired Flare tomatoes, for example. The red juicy tomatoes have darker stripes.
“Dark anthocyanin splashes laid over brick and maroon striped fruit,” the description says. “The plants grow great in cold soil temps and fruit late (into) the season. A great variety to draw attention to your farmers’ market stand!”
Another entry boasts of the amazing flavor of the “Oh My Hybrid Swarm” black tomato.
“We have been hard at work over the last six years to breed a black tomato that’s production rivals that of any tomato we grow,” the description reads.
It’s not all about the tomatoes. The seeds for sale include dry beans, sweet peppers, onions, carrots, sweet peas and many more — all bred for growing in this neck of the woods.
For farmers and gardeners who don’t want to start from scratch, Piscura and partner Kirsten Keenan are transplanting hundreds of seedlings into bigger pots to prepare them for plant sales. The first sale will be at Mana Foods at 1310 Highway 133 in Carbondale on May 3. A second will be at the Landmark Café at 689 Main St. in Carbondale on May 9. The hours for both sales will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Social distancing will be required and shoppers should bring their own tray or box for transport.
Piscura and Keenan also have created a nonprofit branch called Seed Peace to distribute seeds, feed the hungry and connect people to the land. Seed Peace will distribute 500 packets of five varieties of seeds for free this spring. Each packet will have carrots, lentils, kale, chard and squash. They will be distributed at plant sales and to people receiving groceries at food banks.
The pre-pandemic vision was getting people interested in how food was grown, bringing them to the farm and potentially participating in the food production, Piscura said. The realities of the pandemic might place that concept on hold because of social-distancing requirements, but the vision remains alive.
Another plan for Seed Peace is an adopt-a-row of carrots program. Donors can provide the funds to plant a row of carrots. The bounty goes to food banks with some retained for seed stock.
People who have suddenly found time on their hands because of stay at home recommendations would be well advised to take advantage of the hard work Wild Mountain Seeds has put into establishing their seeds and plants.
“When they get a plant from us,” Piscura said, “they’re getting the best of the best of the best for years.”