Valley Fresh Organics will sell organic seedlings at CSU Extension plant sales | VailDaily.com

Valley Fresh Organics will sell organic seedlings at CSU Extension plant sales

Jeff Pieper
Special to the Daily
Chris La Venture stands behind vegetable seedlings she is growing. La Venture farms vegetable starts will be for sale at the Colorado State University Extension Plant Sales on Wednesdays, May 25, June 1 and June 8.
Special to the Daily |

Learn about growing veggies

Colorado State University Extension is hosting a three-part lecture series and plant sale in three separate locations this spring. Learn how to grow better vegetables, and get tips from local vegetable-growing professionals. Doors open at 5 p.m. for each event, with lectures beginning at 5:30 p.m. and plants on sale until 7:30 p.m.

• Wednesday, May 25 — Kyle Velvis discusses basil cloning and aquaponics techniques, Brush Creek Pavilion, Eagle

• Wednesday, June 1 — Nick Courtens discusses tips he’s learned gardening at altitude and from his father while growing up on a vegetable farm in Upstate New York, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail.

• Wednesday, June 8 — Chris LaVenture will talk about companion planting and crop rotation, Avon Salvation Army and Community Garden, Avon.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series about the lecturers featured at this year’s Colorado State University Extension Vegetable Gardening Lecture and Plant Sale series. Find more resources at http://www.eaglecounty.us/csu.

Did you know that lettuce and potatoes were grown in the Eagle River Valley for at least 100 years? For a long time, the area around Avon and Edwards was seen as having the perfect soil and weather conditions to grow produce. For many years, several local families survived on not only what they grew for themselves, but the money made from their sales of potatoes and lettuce.

Continuing in the same vein, La Venture Farm, in Gypsum, grows produce for the Eagle Valley today. The owners of La Venture Farm, Chris and her husband, Tom, have grown vegetables and produced eggs, which they sell to several restaurants in the valley, for more than a decade.

Chris has a horticulture degree, which helps the farm select, plant and grow a huge variety of vegetables. They use sustainable and organic growing techniques to produce potatoes, lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, arugula, rhubarb, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, raspberries, strawberries, onions, radishes, asparagus, garlic, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, peas, beans and winter squash, and, yes, even tomatoes and peppers complete their spring planting list.

Each year, the La Ventures select several different varieties of each crop; some of the varieties are time-tested selections that they grow every year, while other new varieties are put to the test to see how they perform growing in our area. Some have grown well, some not so well, and some not at all. To even try to grow fruits and vegetables in the high country takes the perseverance and tenacity of those first valley settlers.

Valley Fresh Organics

In 2013, retired chef Rick Kangas — you might remember when he was the chef at Grouse Mountain Grill — joined up with La Venture Farm to create Valley Fresh Organics. Kangas has been in a garden for almost his entire life; you could say it’s in his blood. His grandparents and great-grandparents were immigrant farmers who homesteaded in Nebraska and Montana around the end of the 19th century. While growing up in Montana, he helped his mom in the family’s garden. She also taught him how to can their harvest.

Kangas has gardened in the valley since 1999, and in 2011, he completed the Colorado Master Gardener course. During the next few years, he completed the agro-ecology course at Colorado Mountain College, food safety training and master land steward program. Kangas has helped La Venture Farms with food production in the field, but he also brings his knowledge of food preservation, so the farm has value-added products they can sell, as well. You could say the partnership between Chris La Venture and Kangas is as natural as the food they grow and preserve.

In another move to help Valley Fresh Organics diversify its offerings, the team welcomed Diane Stockmar in 2015. Stockmar sources organic fruit and vegetables from the Western Slope, where produce is ready for harvest up to a month before the produce in the Eagle Valley. Not only does sourcing from other Western Slope growers help to supplement what is grown at La Venture Farm, it also lengthens their market season.

Each spring, Valley Fresh Organics has sold organic seedlings to the valley’s ambitious gardeners. They offer organic seedlings that have been selected to successfully grow in our clayish, rocky soil and withstand our extreme weather conditions and our short, often frosty growing season. This year, Valley Fresh Organics will be at each of the three Colorado State University Extension plant sales (see fact box).

All plant sales will feature a local professional lecturing about gardening techniques. On June 8, Chris La Venture will be discussing organic pest control and crop rotation. If you can’t make it to one of these plant sales, then you can find the Valley Fresh Organic farm stand at the Eagle Information Center on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., where they sell a variety of seedlings (anything from arugula to zucchini), freshly harvested organic produce, as well as canned and preserved foods. They will also be happy to try to answer any gardening questions you might have.

The supply of seedlings at the farm stand varies. For gardeners who want to make sure they get a specific vegetable start, you can also place a seedling order through their website. For more information, or to be added to Valley Fresh Organics’ weekly harvest email list, visit Rick’s Colorado Fresh Network webpage or contact them via email at vfo@ coloradofresh.net.

Jeff Pieper is the Eagle County horticulture and small acreage agent for the Colorado State University Extension. You can reach him at 970-328-8633 and at jeff.pieper@eaglecounty.us.