Friday, April 17, 2009

Gardeners plot a revolution

Wood River Valley gardeners get serious about growing produce

Express Staff Writer

Hailey resident Elizabeth Jeffrey, organizer of Valley Victory Gardeners, preps her vegetable beds for planting, despite snow flurries that passed through the region Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

When first lady Michelle Obama decided to break ground on the White House lawn to grow a vegetable garden, it signaled an acknowledgement of a national trend: More and more people are eating fresh, unprocessed, locally grown food.

In the Wood River Valley, a number of residents have been growing organic fruits and vegetables for decades. In the last several months, that number appears to have grown substantially.

"There is a disconnection with growing food because of our global economy," said Allison Kennedy, education director for the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, a nonprofit community garden south of Ketchum. "When I go to a classroom and ask children, 'Where does a hamburger come from?' the kids have no idea. We have become so efficient as a society that learning to garden is not taught anymore."

A Sawtooth Botanical Garden class called "Grow Better Vegetables," which took place Thursday, April 9, in partnership with the Sun Valley Center for the Arts new multidisciplinary exhibition, "Farming in the 21st Century," had 80 people in attendance. The class focused on high-altitude vegetable gardening.

"It's a huge change," Kennedy said. "The last time we did a workshop with the University of Idaho, we had 13 people show up. People are waking up to health issues with non-organic farming, and they want to make steps to grow their own food and be sustainable."

Kennedy said people take a lot of pride in growing their food and appreciate the flavor, as well as the vitamins and minerals the foods provide. She said it is important to connect people to plants, especially through edible plants.

Unfortunately, growing produce in the Wood River Valley is not an easy task. Central Idaho has temperature swings from 70 degrees to 30 degrees in one day, said Judd McMahan, owner of Wood River Organics, an organic farm near Bellevue. McMahan led the "Grow Better Vegetables" class.

"Vegetables grow here but there is a limited growing season," McMahan said. "There are techniques to enhance an environment, prolong a harvest and maintain it."

In an effort to understand how to grow sustainable food in the Wood River Valley, Hailey resident Elizabeth Jeffrey launched a new garden group, Valley Victory Gardeners, on March 26 at the Hailey Public Library.

"She was really interested in getting together a group of people who wanted to produce local food," said meeting moderator and publicity coordinator Lisa Horton. "I thought we would be lucky to get 10, and we had 75 people show up. I have lived here 20 years, and I didn't know half the people who attended."

Jeffrey said she took a poll at the first meeting and found that 25 percent of the people there were new to the valley and to gardening. All attendees were eager to start their intended gardens properly and to know as much as possible about dealing with the volatile Wood River Valley climate.

"Many people in the group are growing for their own consumption," Jeffrey said. "It's also about eating more nutritiously."

The group plans to discuss seeds and seed sources as well as plant starts. In addition, meetings will include discussions on organic pest control, garden planning, garden layout, water use and raised garden beds. Garden "walkabouts" and tours are planned for the summer meetings.

"Everyone is welcome any time," Jeffrey said. "It is not a club—it's a group of gardeners."

The Sawtooth Botanical Garden will continue to hold meetings to discuss gardening and offers access to its reference library.

"It is important to grow organic goods and eat organic foods as well as support your neighbors," Kennedy said. "It makes sense if you can grow your own food because you are in control of your own health."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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