Seeds to sow: Grand Roots offers seed library and edible gardens
April 28, 2015
Jessica Foley, a mother of two in Grand Lake, did not set out to create the Grand Roots Project, Grand County's non-genetically modified seed bank.
Three years ago she wasn't an experienced gardener, and she bought her food at the grocery store.
But like many parents, she was concerned about what her family was eating.
In 2012, Foley's 4-year-old son was exhibiting some behaviors that worried her. He missed social milestones and preferred isolation over interaction.
“I really want my kids to be involved in this too
— we need to know how to grow our own food.”Jessica FoleyFounder, Grand Roots Project
Foley changed one thing that she could — his diet. She prepared all organic food for her family for three days, and immediately saw a dramatic difference. He changed. The behaviors abated. The whole family benefitted: They had more energy and less anxiety.
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"I couldn't go back to not eating real food. How could you?" she said.
So Foley set out to educate others about the simple commitment to real food that contributed to her child's happiness.
"I thought, 'I wish someone would have just told me this a couple of years ago!'"
She held a series of community presentations about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She didn't want other parents to watch their children struggle along, unhappy and frustrated, when a committed change in diet could do so much.
Genetically modified organisms started appearing in the food industry in the early 1990s. Using gene-splicing technology, scientists change the foods — from cheese and milk to major crops — to produce a greater yield. Most are bred to resist herbicides or insects.
The growth of GMOs in certain crops is staggering. Estimates from 2011 ranged from 88 percent of corn grown in the U.S. to 95 percent of sugar beets.
"After I learned all the shocking stuff about what GMOs do, I had to stop worrying about what I don't want anymore and focus on what I do want. We plan on propagating every single seed we can," said Foley.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, GMOs are prohibited in certified organic foods.
Proponents of GMOs argue that the practice continues a tradition farmers have been using for thousands of years: selecting the most productive plants and seeds. They also point out that greater yields can feed more people.
Foley's next challenge was find a way to supply the food her family needed — organic, healthy, unprocessed food — without the budget-breaking expense. The only feasible solution was to grow it herself.
"We planted seeds —pumpkins, the little sweet ones — and squash. … I say 'we' but it was mostly my husband," she said.
The Grand Roots organization formed to provide non-GMO seeds — at no cost — to families like the Foleys who want to start their own backyard gardens.
"That's what inspired us. I had no experience whatsoever. It's doable," said Foley.
They started with a seed drive, collecting seeds from local green thumbs.
"A whole bunch of seeds were donated. We had seventh generation squash seeds from Hot Sulphur Springs," said Foley.
They distribute the seeds online through the Grand Roots Facebook page. The Indian Peaks Charter School in Granby has a "seed librarian" who will also be available from 9:30 – 11:30 am on Fridays during the month of May. They ask that participants bring baggies to transport seeds.
Those who receive the seeds sign a commitment that they will return for a fall workshop to learn how to propagate seeds from the food they harvest.
"It's an education piece," said Foley. "We have to make it sustainable. My hope is that they will always be free — seeds should be free for everybody."
Initial planning is underway for two Grand Roots edible gardens, one at the Grand Lake Library and the other at Old Schoolhouse Park in Fraser.
Trish Cyman, a certified permaculturist, volunteers her time with Grand Roots to share her expertise in garden design and building techniques. She has created gardens in urban areas and studied growing practices of indigenous communities.
But her best laboratory is her own backyard near Tabernash.
"I have enough land to see if I can apply these principals. It's been more experimental for me. I am not using any fertilizers or chemicals. I try different ways to compost," she said.
Permaculture is the melding of ethics and design principals to more responsibly use resources. Cyman said it can be very theoretical, but in practice it makes sense.
For example, aromatic plants like mint can be planted on the edge of a garden to deter pests. Spiral-shaped gardens are built vertically with the heartiest plants at the top and the most water-dependent plants on the bottom. As the water runs down, it distributes in the right quantities to each level.
"Permaculture is: Here's my goal, here's my design, and then you see what happens," she said.
Grand Roots will invite volunteers to work on the garden in Old Schoolhouse Park, learning permaculture principals as the garden is designed and built. They are also seeking community members who may want to share knowledge of what to do with the plants once they are harvested — canning, preserving, or making home remedies.
The roughly 20 foot-by-20-foot space north of Fraser Town Hall is still pending final approval, but Foley and Cyman can already visualize the possibilities.
"We can do it once a week and build it slowly. We just need a design and people who want to get involved," said Cyman.
Foley hopes other families will come out to learn what they can do in their own yards.
"I really want my kids to be involved in this too — we need to know how to grow our own food," she said.
The Grand Roots Project is made possible by support from Infinite West, a local non-profit committed to promoting sustainable communities. Find Grand Roots on Facebook to volunteer or request seeds.