Pine River Shares, a grassroots nonprofit serving the Pine River Valley, launched its Victory Garden Campaign on Monday, offering free garden kits to residents from Arboles to Vallecito.
Some residents in the valley, which covers most of eastern La Plata County, face economic and geographic challenges that make it difficult to have easy access to fresh, healthful and affordable food. Pine River Shares and its partners combined efforts to help residents access healthful food right outside their doorsteps.
“The greatest need is for individuals, families and communities to be healthier,” said Sharman Alto, a Pine River Shares board member and volunteer. “We’re working to create balance. The theme is food for all – no one goes without.”
The Victory Garden Campaign, part of the Pine River Shares Field to Fork project, offers residents full gardening kits, including soil, vegetables, seeds and instructions. It also provides continued educational support and monitoring for participants.
The goal is to support everyone, from students to ranchers, to buy, share, produce and consume healthful food grown locally. The nonprofit assembled 20 boxes and began distributing them Monday.
“When they have fresh produce available right outside their door, that makes such a huge difference,” Alto said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the communities, Alto said, based on her conversations with community members. People have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay rent or buy food. They might not have the money to put gas in their cars to drive 70 miles round trip to go to grocery stores in Durango.
“People realized that (growing food) is something that gives them the sense of more sustainability and control over their own individual lives,” Alto said.
The project has been a team effort. Ignacio School District woodshop teacher Molly Turner cut old wooden bleachers to size for the garden box frame, then Pine River Shares volunteers put the boxes together. Manna, a soup kitchen in Durango, and Pine River Garden Club donated vegetables and seeds. Robert Steck in Bayfield provided the soil. Local businesses and residents funded the whole project through donations.
“Some of these boxes are going to people who have perhaps never grown anything, or those who have grown in the past but are not able to garden anymore,” Alto said.
The program is one step toward rebuilding easy food access, and organizers see potential for it to expand in the future – perhaps into local schools.
“Gardening is such a healthy activity. It helps us grow physically, emotionally, mentally and physically,” Alto said. “In turn, it builds a stronger community.”