Garden Guardians tend community plots and then donate product to The Community Market
EAGLE — Some of the freshest, sustainably grown produce in the Eagle Valley can’t be found on market shelves or upscale restaurant plates.
It can’t even be purchased. But it is available, free of charge, to locals who need it the most.
Through a program called Garden Guardians, local residents are tending plots in community gardens located in Eagle, Minturn and EagleVail and then donating their harvested produce to The Community Market. The program is an initiative of a nonprofit called New Roots CO, established in 2018 with the mission to “support healthy, local, sustainable food access through education, outreach, and partnership.
“Volunteers get to tend a garden and know that the produce goes to people who need it,” said Lanny Ellis, member of the New Roots Board of Directors. “What our organization is about is offering a lot of resources to people and working to connect the different elements of our food system.”
Ellis said that the local garden plots have produced almost 40 pounds of fresh produce for the local food bank this summer. To put that number into perspective, think about how much lettuce, spinach or kale it takes to make a pound. Additionally, a team of volunteers from the program traveled to Orchard Mesa near Palisade earlier this summer to harvest produce from the Colorado State University research station there.
“The market wants to offer fresh produce so this is a great option,” said Ellis. “It is very fresh. It is literally farm to market and you can buy food that fresh at the store.”
Ellis said New Roots is thrilled to be working with The Community Market. That sentiment is enthusiastically returned.
“We are so appreciative of this partnership,” said Rita Hennigan, sustainability coordinator for Eagle Valley Community Foundation, which oversees The Community Market.
“New Roots’ efforts help to increase access to fresh, nutritious food for everyone in Eagle County, and it’s always so exciting when we can share with our customers at The Community Market that something was grown locally with such care and harvested maybe even just a few hours before their visit,” Hennigan said. “Sharing this information and beautiful produce with our customers is a great way to communicate that they are cared for.”
Ellis noted that a single community garden plot can produce a surprisingly large crop. “It also turns out to be super nutritionally dense,” he said.
Community garden crops currently being cultivated include lettuce, spinach, kale, sugar peas, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, zucchini and more.
Ellis said that the volunteer gardeners are generally people who just love to toil in the soil.
“A lot of people out there don’t want to have the responsibility of having an entire community garden plot. With this program, they can just garden as much as they want to,” he said.
Other volunteers, such as Holly Simonton from Eagle, can’t seem to get enough time in the ground.
“I love to garden and I have a big garden at home,” she said. But after seeing a Facebook appeal from New Roots for gardeners, she signed up to help. Through Garden Guardians, Simonton found she could give back to the community while spending time doing something she loves.
“I thought it was great the food goes to a food bank,” she said. “I have driven by that community garden in Eagle Ranch a million times and never even thought about it. I think it’s pretty cool the plots out there are being used for other people.”