Serene Karplus, Nederland. Mountain residents recall a brief interruption to our food supply when roads were destroyed during the 2013 flood. We were fortunate that trucks found a passable route from I-70 and that other less-affected areas could quickly resume shipments. Many of us were able to descend via lesser roads to reach other continuous food sources. But what if all roads had been rendered impassable or the grocery stores on the plains had also been emptied with no new supplies arriving?
Food is a precious and fragile commodity. During disasters, either natural or manmade, food can be scarce. During our recent decades of peace, we have enjoyed abundance, with imports of every imaginable kind of food. We luxuriously consume fresh berries in winter and lemons, pineapples, tomatoes and thousands of other foods year round that we cannot grow here.
Those who lived through the world wars remember rations and scarcity of much that we take for granted today. As part of the war effort, Americans stepped up to grow their own food, with 18 million gardens yielding as much produce as the commercial agriculture industry during WWII. It was not only patriotic, but a clear necessity for individuals to grow food at home and for cities to convert parks, boulevards, and open spaces into creative food sources. These were called Victory Gardens.
With changes in our political climate in America, many of our citizens foresee unknown challenges ahead that may alter the food utopia we have enjoyed. Rather than remain dependent on others to feed us, local mountain folk are seeking ways to sustain ourselves, and be resilient to disasters.
Without being bomb shelter survivalists, we can understand the wisdom of taking responsibility for our own well-being and health. We all recognize that growing food at this altitude is a challenge and many of us just shrug and assume we can always buy it somewhere. Although our rocky soil and dry climate may never be able to produce enough food to sustain the thousands of us who live here, we can certainly make a dent in the problem should the need arise. But it will be too late to figure it out after a disaster hits. If we pull together and learn from one another now, we can accomplish important steps towards the resiliency we need.
This is the philosophy of a new nonprofit in our area designed to help individuals, organizations, businesses, and the town develop gardens for a more sustainable community. Named Ned Victory Gardens to recall the era when nearly everyone grew some form of food, locals Jim McVey and Wendy Monroe stand ready to help move us all forward. Anyone who has planted seeds unsuccessfully here knows the value of experienced mentorship. Victory Gardens around Nederland have turned over three rounds of crops in a single short season.
They encourage even the smallest effort – a single pot of herbs on a kitchen window sill is a garden. A four foot square raised garden bed by the driveway may be a manageable solution. Huge quantities of tilled acreage are not necessary to contribute to our sustainability. Everything helps.
We face multiple challenges in the mountains. We bring in good soil from elsewhere or spend a few years composting both our household waste and every leaf we can find (again, likely shifted from somewhere else because we don’t all live in aspen forests). Our season is short, requiring seed varieties that germinate and produce quickly. Water is tricky, because laws prevent us from watering gardens with hoses drawing off our wells. The new law allowing us to catch up to 50 gallons in a rain barrel sounds great, but we are unlikely to capture the amount needed each week to keep our little plants alive and thriving.
Jim and Wendy stand ready to assist each of us as we move towards greater resilience. They are committed to a grassroots initiative based on self-reliance, community, and sustainable living. Through their nonprofit (www.nedvictorygardens.org), they are available for advice or hands-on help so each of us can succeed.