Utilizing a sunny windowsill for herbs and potting plants at home has become a welcome respite for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. One local organization is planning on harnessing that momentum for the greater good of the community.
Mountain Roots Food Project is coordinating a collaborative garden effort among home and community gardeners in the Gunnison Valley in response to COVID-19.
“The Victory Garden Revival is a new project that Mountain Roots is launching this season to combat food insecurity in the Gunnison Valley during the pandemic,” said Sean Kohler of Mountain Roots who is leading the effort.
Kohler says the inspiration came from the “war garden movement” at the onset of World War I, later called “victory gardens.” The redirection of commercial crops to troops overseas created food shortages and rationing in the U.S. Citizens were then incentivized by the government to create their own sustainable gardens that could provide fresh produce for themselves and the community at large.
By the end of WWII, “About 40 percent of all the produce consumed in the U.S. was grown in home gardens,” added Kohler. “We’re now at another moment in history when there is a lot of stress on our food systems.”
The response to the global pandemic reflects the need for self-sufficiency and healthful eating amid supply-chain uncertainty and fears of virus exposure at grocery stores.
The first step to involvement is registering your home garden, raised beds, patio containers or chicken coop with Mountain Roots. You’ll then be provided with free seeds, a yard sign and $25 to spend in the online local food marketplace. The Mountain Roots Farm Team then facilitates garden consultations depending on experience level. Entry level gardeners would be given assistance and resources to get their projects up and running. More seasoned gardeners could in turn be mentors to budding growers and offer their knowledge.
They’ve also teamed up with master gardeners from Colorado State University’s local Extension Office as well as student gardeners from the Organics Guild at Western Colorado University to aid with consultations and educational resources.
“We’re reaching out to all gardeners in the valley regardless of experience level and trying to hone in differently to each level,” explained Kohler. Mountain Roots also offers community garden memberships if you don’t have your own space to tend to.
The goal is for growers to eventually have enough yield to donate some or all of their bounty to the Mountain Roots Backyard Harvest Program. This program intends to provide hunger relief to the community, with the addition of free pop-up markets hosted in different high-need neighborhoods throughout the valley. The food is provided by growers, farmers and “leftovers” of unsold food purchased by Mountain Roots from farmers markets. In their May 29 grant cycle the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley’s COVID Recovery Fund also contributed $10,000 to the pop-up markets.
“The biggest involvement any at home gardener can have is to just keep gardening and let Mountain Roots be a support in any way we can,” advised Kohler. Being a longtime gardener with a background in education and experiential learning, Kohler was inspired to get involved in food production and cultivation after spending time travelling. He recognized when people connect to their food “it gives them a personal connection to the land and what they’re eating.”
Growing a garden — especially in a harsh climate like the Gunnison Valley — can be tough. But with more of us staying home, the hobby can be a rewarding way to feed the community, boost mental health and enjoy the actual fruits of your labor.
(Morgan Schaefer can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or morgan@gunnisontimes. com.)
Visit mountainrootsfoodproject.org to register your Victory Garden and for locations/times for summer Free Markets.
Want to schedule a garden consultation or coordinate a donation?
CSU-Extension’s Grow & Give project: cmg.extension.colostate.edu/grow-give/