What's Growing On Around Here?!

The middle of harvest season in the San Luis Valley provides numerous opportunities to prepare and eat wonderful foods grown here. But how did farming come to be part of this high desert area, considered a wasteland by some early explorers and used for only a summer hunting ground for Ute Indians? The growing season is short, occasionally only a hundred days between freezing temperatures, frost and snow!

First, a quick word on Texas flooding. Listening to the music by Dreamtale, a band from Finland, their album Beyond Reality is an appropriate term for Hurricane Harvey. Who can imagine over 4 feet of rain in a single storm? The people of SE Texas can, as well as the people in Bangladesh who rely on the monsoons to water their crops but must live in hopes that they are not subject to massive flooding that results in wiped out crops, destruction and death. Sadly, monster floods are occurring simultaneously there. One reason I mention this is that the water from the Rio Grande that supplies food to this valley is also responsible for growing food 1200 miles downstream in Texas. Fortunately, the major portion of Texas’ food growing regions were spared from the rains of Harvey. Still, the floods have taken their toll on local food supplies. How lucky we are to have had, and continue to have, a fabulous growing season. Not sure if there is a way for us to send excess bounty from our gardens to the people in desperate need in Texas shelters or not... Contact Local Food Coalition for ideas.

So, what is growing around here now besides pine, wildflowers and aspen trees in the mountains, sage, cacti, and grasses in the valley, willows and cottonwoods along the waterways, and many other valuable species that fill in the gaps? Add in the agricultural fields and gardens created by humans and all these ecosystems and life zones create a stable system of plant diversity which allows animal species, including humans, to live and thrive.

For human communities to grow, required edible crops to grow. But first, fields had to be cleared and water ditches dug to divert stream flows into those fields. These things began to happen in the mid-1800s. Secondly, the right mix of plants is needed to survive in these high and dry desert conditions, especially if grown outside. On a much smaller scale, greenhouses and geodesic domes play a role. Greenhouses extend the growing season for a variety of plants and domes provide microclimates year round that allow tropical plants to grow such as citrus and fig trees and many others! A fresh squeezed lime for your homemade salsa or margarita is a geodesic dome away! There are many in the valley as the headquarters for Growing Spaces is over the hill in Pagosa Springs. (all they do is sell and help people build and grow in geodesic domes). Check out the dome at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club on Highway 285 a few blocks south of the railroad tracks. They make great Christmas presents for any green thumbers in your family!

A real boost to local food growing has been that a number of small organizations now cooperate to grow, teach, and show people how to prepare real foods. VEGI, (Valley Educational Gardens Initiative) maintain gardens and domes around town. The Local Food Coalition helps support a number of programs including the Rio Grande Farm Park. Growing in size every year, the Farm Park on the west side of the junctions of Highways 17 and 160 provide ‘dirt’ for small commercial farmers as well as small family plot gardens. On Wednesday Aug 30, a farm tour around town on bicycles started at the Farm Park. Munchies were made from local products, some of which, like zucchinis, are exploding out of the gardens!

Varieties of veggies are being harvested daily at the Farm Park. One historic and honorable mention goes to Antonio and Sandy who are growing heirloom Bolita beans - a tasty, healthy, creamier, and easier on the tummy than other bean varieties, that according to Sandy (she and Antonio have a booth at the Alamosa Farmers’ Market on Saturdays), her parents, Praxedes and Daisy V. Ortega continued the tradition of growing bolita beans as passed on through generations of farmers in the town of San Luis. This amazing bean is a protein source around which to base a simple, basic, and healthy diet. I’ve been eating them for a year now and absolutely love them!

For a better understanding of what plant foods can grow around here, outside, inside, and to buy these good eats and take home veggies, the 5th annual Harvest Soirée will be at the Rio Grande Farm Park on Saturday, September 9th. 9-5. Eat well, be weller!

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