Harsh conditions can’t stop Routt County locals from growing fresh produce | SteamboatToday.com

Harsh conditions can’t stop Routt County locals from growing fresh produce

Zach Fridell

Christina Yeager and her husband, Chad, enjoy some lettuce in the kitchen of their Steamboat Springs home. The couple owns Firefly Mountain Produce, which offers naturally grown salad and braising greens, as well as some root crops and herbs.

The winter is long, and the growing season is short. The ground often is covered by rocks and trees. But for the few Routt County residents who persist in growing their own food, the rewards can outweigh all the obstacles the Rocky Mountains can throw in the way.

"It's kind of a difficult climate to grow food in until you learn the tricks of the trade," Christina Yeager said.

Yeager, owner of Firefly Mountain Produce, has decided to brave the elements on a plot of land in North Routt County to grow produce each summer, mostly greens for cooking, herbs and lettuce.

Yeager uses a covered, unheated growing area to give her plants a small advantage against the snow and storms, but she still loses a portion of her produce each year — last year her beets were devoured by voles before harvest. But she said it's worth it to have fresh produce that wasn't grown just for shelf life.

"I started thinking that I like fresh food, and I wish it was more available. I see this is a pretty health-minded community around here, and I just knew people would appreciate buying food that is not only more healthy and fresh, but is also more delicious," she said. "The type of variety of tomato (at the grocery store) can last 60 days in storage and can travel in a truck and not get crushed. It's not optimal; it's not grown for nutrition; it's not grown for anything but storage and travel-ability."

Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow said Yeager's business is the only commercial vegetable-growing operation he knows of in Routt County, but there are several community gardens with self-made growers.

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So far, Yeager has cultivated about half an acre of the 32 acres she and her husband own near Clark, and she said she hopes to expand the business. Her food is available through local stores such as Bamboo Market Health Foods and Sweet Pea Market, and at several local restaurants. She also sells food directly to consumers through a kind of subscription program — people interested in the produce pay a weekly fee and can choose a variety from Yeager's weekly harvest during the height of the season.

Bridget Ferguson said she started buying Firefly Mountain Produce last year after gardening disasters discouraged her from starting her own garden.

"I was awful," she said. "Between the grasshoppers and the bad soil, it's so labor intensive. It's so delightful to go pick it up every week in an insulated bag."

The growing season is 59 days in Steamboat, 85 days in Hayden and 49 days in Oak Creek, Mucklow said.

Mucklow said he hopes to have a downtown Steamboat Springs community garden running by May, with 20 plots available for rent. He said the rent will be inexpensive, based on the cost of watering the plots. He said that despite the challenges, growers can produce vegetables and even some fruits not typically grown in Northwest Colorado, including tomatoes, pumpkins, spinach, potatoes and strawberries.

For more information about the Steamboat Springs community garden, call the extension office at 970-879-0825. For more information about Firefly Mountain Produce, visit: http://www.localsustainability.net/directory/produce-2/produce/firefly-mountain-produce/ or e-mail FireflyMtn@msn.com.