When 60 or so local families gather for a work party on the farm of Bob Kauer and Jama Crawford on County Road 234, its all about appreciating food from the ground up.
These plant-to-plate celebrations are held Sunday afternoons, about once a month from April to October. Decades ago, gatherings of extended family around the table on the farm were commonplace. Shared Harvest beckons folks to revive the tradition by breaking bread together after teams finish a days work in the popular community garden.
There are no Amish or Mennonites in the group, yet the agrarian spirit of cooperating to bring in the harvest is at the core of Shared Harvests mission. For a handful of team leaders, the work goes on year-round.
Compost and manure gathering, seed selection and garden planning happen in cool winter months. Momentum builds in April as the garden plot is readied for planting by leaders and worker-bees, all pulling in the same direction.
On just half of one irrigated acre, we raise enough fresh, wholesome vegetables to feed our members about 150 adults and children from July to October, said Crawford, one of several garden organizers.
Excess crops are given to local charities, sold at the Durango Farmers Market to replenish the coffers or shared among members for home canning or freezing.
Membership in Shared Harvest is full, with a waiting list for next year. Last weeks garden season kick-off included an orientation for 10 new families. All walked through an orderly equipment barn and learned about using the compost pile. They heard about the importance of closing gates behind them and why water and good soil are precious.
Meanwhile, veteran gardeners pushed rototillers and wheelbarrows. Some hauled 5-gallon buckets of weeds. Manure and optimism were spread over beds with good measure, as gardeners weeded and repaired irrigation lines in marked rows. After picking a wintered-over crop of baby spinach, a few families headed home. Others lined up to use the bathroom in the small farm house. Supper was about to begin.
As though it were a holiday gathering, kids scrambled underfoot in the kitchen before swarming the dessert table. Cooks passed serving spoons while warming last-minute dishes. Bubbled-over enchiladas were scraped off the oven rack, with the best remnants transferred to a serving platter.
Geezers in straw hats lined up with young moms toting babies to circle a table heaped with home-cooked food. Even though its just April, the gardens past-season influence was apparent.
Cooks chatted about foraging through freezers to scarf up the last of the green beans, garlic and squash. Farm-grown herbs seasoned lentils, soups and casseroles. Salads and soups in crockpots rounded out the feast.
For Victoria and Eric Falk and their almost-2-year-old daughter, Ayla, the potluck was part of the sharing that defines the community gardens success.
We live in an apartment. We tried to grow some tomatoes inside, but that did not work out too well, the young mother admitted. My team is growing peas, spinach, kale and chard. Im learning from everyone, getting the knowledge for my future home garden, Falk said.
Falk, a 3-year member of the Shared Harvest community, said this is her only experience with a cooperative gardening effort. She said she was surprised to learn that most community gardens did not share in the same manner, that some had individual plots in which each worked independently to grow their own preferred crops.
The feeling of community and all that is shared and learned for a 2-hour-a-week commitment is amazing, Falk said. Were super-impressed.
The American Community Garden Association estimates there are about 18,000 community gardens in the United States, most of which are located in urban areas. The model more frequently used is a shared space that offers participants defined areas in which they can grow the specific crops they intend to harvest, rather than teams of workers cooperatively planting the shared space and harvesting from all crops grown.
Crawford admits its not always smooth sailing. Just as families have challenges related to equal or fair distribution of jobs, effort and resources, Shared Harvest occasionally has issues too, but, she said the cooperative approach means less work and less expense than gardening on your own. This garden is an excellent model of low-cost, high-quality food production.