Part bicycle caravan, part horticultural voyeurism, participants in Saturday’s seventh annual Tour de Farms braved swarms of insects and busy weekend traffic, including oblivious drivers and jaywalking deer, to study the gardens, farms and other havens of vegetation throughout Durango.
Organizer Stacey Carlson of Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado said the event was about “connecting people to local food and healthy living, and showing people what can be done in their backyard.”
About 80 people gathered at 8 a.m. at the La Plata County Fairgrounds to set off on one of two bicycle routes, a 25-mile route through the valley or a more manageable downtown route.
On the longer ride, the cyclists visited some of the county’s great farms: the Adobe House Farm, James Ranch and the backyard of Alison Dance, who owns Cyprus Cafe.
On the shorter route, participants enjoyed rare views of some of the city’s secret gardens, stopping first at the garden of Katie Burford and Josh Stephenson. (Stephenson is the website editor for The Durango Herald.)
In the couple’s front yard, tour participants were met by a sunflower that stood about 10 feet high, seemingly transported from Alice’s Wonderland to West Third Avenue.
In the backyard, guests marveled at numerous chickens, some of which had laid striking pale blue eggs.
While children ogled the trampoline, adults tried the couple’s honey, which was made by the busy bees they’d cultivated on their property.
Next, at Darrin Parmenter’s house on West Second Avenue, riders abandoned their bikes in the street and walked into his garden, where Parmenter is growing all manner of plants in seven raised beds, including tomatoes, basil, spinach, French fillet beans and enormous sprigs of lavender.
Parmenter told participants anyone can achieve a great, nourishing garden, but he warned them to choose their produce carefully, sharing his weakness for shishito peppers cooked in olive oil and sea salt.
“They’re like popcorn,” he said, plucking one from the ground. “I can eat 100 in one sitting.”
3-year-old Sage Neadeau, daughter of Kevin Neadeau, helped herself to a plum from Parmenter’s tree, and many adults soon followed her example, with some proceeding to gobble perfectly ripe orange tomatoes.
At another stop, Jeff Madeen and John Essen welcomed tour participants to Animas Valley Farms, the only certified organic farm in the county.
Madeen said the Tour de Farms is a labor of love.
“It’s always great, especially when people say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ That feels good, even if its not compensated much in the way of Federal Reserve notes,” he said.
He said the politics underlying the tour are important.
“Organic food is civil disobedience. Industrial food is subsidized by the government, especially corn. Corporations – you know – what can we do to break the circle?” he said.
When the cyclists dismounted at the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden, Mia Carrasco-Songer, the garden’s manager, welcomed them with an earthy beet-based salad.
Carrasco-Songer said the garden, which is in its first year, is the only public community garden in Durango. She said the garden brings “a lot of beauty to the community, beyond food,” she said, citing the garden’s tendency to foster community, education and individual growth.
On the short tour’s final stop, guides Suzanne Washburn, her 10-year-old daughter Isabelle and Jamie Avila led tour participants through First United Methodist Church’s Giving Garden, which gives away all of its produce for free. Washburn said to create the garden in 2011, volunteers used the “lasagna” method of planting, which involved layering newspaper, cardboard and leaves 12 times to make a bed for soil.
Judging by the garden’s thriving sprigs of cilantro and swollen heads of cabbage and lettuce, the lasagna method worked.
Washburn said so far, the produce has gone to Manna Soup Kitchen, the Food Bank, needy families, the Women’s Resource Center and the Durango/La Plata Senior Center.
The Tour de Farms concluded at sponsor Ska Brewing, where tour participants enjoyed beer made with local hops and a delicious lunch courtesy of Zia Taqueria.
Tour participant Brett Rezek said she enjoyed the opportunity – in this case, sanctioned – to snoop through her neighbors’ properties, and that she felt “shamed” she hadn’t known about all of Durango’s gardens.
Master gardener Margaret Cozine also enjoyed the Tour de Farms.
“I’m really supportive of anything in the community that helps people grow their own food,” she said.
Scott Packer, Cozine’s friend who is visiting Durango from Canada, was another enthusiastic tour supporter and participant.
“This is probably the best summer I’ve ever had,” he said, despite having gotten a speeding ticket on his first day in town. “Durango is one of the most unique towns in the United States.”