FRISCO — The Summit County community has quite the green thumb.
Just this summer, the High Country Conservation Center has grown just over 500 pounds of produce at part of its grow to share program, valuing around $3,168.
The program grows and collects produce at the Dillon Valley Elementary community garden, which it then donates to families enrolled in the county’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children and the food bank at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center.
The program started as a way for community gardeners to donate extra produce to the three organizations.
“(When the program started) we just wanted to eliminate waste and make sure we were feeding more fresh, locally-grown produce into the hands of our families,” said Whitney Horner, Summit County’s Women, Infants & Children director.
In 2016, the garden at Dillon Valley became dedicated to teaching the 250 Women, Infants & Children program families about nutrition and healthy living.
Although the novel coronavirus pandemic meant the program was unable to offer the same level of hands-on activity as before, the community garden has remained a place for growth and education. Kyla Laplante, the head gardener at the conservation center, has used the opportunity to maximize production.
In 2019, the program generated around 420 pounds of produce over the summer. With a month left in the growing season, the program has far surpassed last year’s numbers.
“It kind of developed initially as a feeding program. We were just taking donations for the garden,” Laplante said. “I don’t think we ever thought it would be going into full production mode for the program.”
In the past, the program used the school as an educational space to teach families about nutrition, pass out recipes and give cooking advice.
“We had to kind of shift our model and be adaptive, as has everybody with COVID this year,” Horner said. “We really focused more on maximizing production out of Dillon Valley and trying to give as much food out to the families since we’re not doing as many class gatherings.”
During the pandemic, the garden is open to 20 Women, Infants & Children families every Tuesday. Horner said the families are able to sign up and come pick their produce. Anything that’s left over is donated to the food pantry at the resource center.
Horner, who is also a dietician, said the program is invaluable to the families involved as it gives them a chance for healthier lifestyle.
“Just getting families excited about trying new foods is a huge benefit,” she said. “We’re having families who otherwise might not normally buy kale or some of these vegetables in the store. (We) hope that by educating them and giving them exposure to this fresh grown produce, they’ll continue to eat their greens all year round.”
The program also helps with the conservation center’s efforts to help the environment.
“When you think about lettuce and greens that are grown in California, they travel over 1,200 miles to reach Summit County,” Horner said. “(At the community garden) they’re actually locally grown here so it’s going to count for less emissions and much more nutrition.”
Laplante said the program is especially beneficial for the children involved.
“We can reconnect kids who have never seen food being grown and only understand what it looks like in the grocery store,” she said. “That’s a pretty invaluable piece to provide a kid with a meaningful connection to food and to understand that a vegetable can taste good.”
The program is funded by a number of community organizations, including St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Live Well Colorado, City Market, the Alexandra Storm Foundation and Slifer Smith and Frampton Real Estate. Families can still sign up to be a part of Women, Infants & Children programs by visiting its page on SummitCountyCo.gov.