When Longmont resident Lurbin Moore first started gardening, her children didn’t always like the fresh vegetables that grew from the ground. But with time her children began to care for the garden, planting seeds with their dad’s help, weeding, watering and tending to the young plants. By the time harvest came around, they were excited to help bring in the fresh produce and try the fruits of their labor.

“They were excited to eat the produce they helped to grow,” Moore says. “And now, they can tell the difference between a canned vegetable and those they have grown in the garden.”

Moore saw the benefits of having her own garden and when the Ed & Ruth Lehman YMCA in Longmont started its education farm, she was eager to help.

“I knew there were people in my own community who didn’t have the opportunity to have a garden, so the Y made it possible for them to have one,” she says. “It’s a great experience for kids, and the food always tastes better.”

Jessica Fernandez, the Director of Healthy Living at the Longmont YMCA, says their organization has spent several years doing everything it can through community outreach to bring its neighbors together, whether it’s to promote healthy living, teach valuable messages or find a program that best fits the needs. “We discovered it’s more about adapting our programs to serve our community,” she says.

Through its ongoing research, the YMCA discovered there were many local families who had never experienced the opportunity to grow or eat fresh produce, which resulted in the start of a small salsa garden in 2010. The following year it grew into a larger garden and involved preschool kids to help in the seed planting and selling items from a small produce stand at the YMCA. Fernandez says the kids were so excited that they put all of their earnings back into the farm to allow it to grow.

Local kids proudly displaying produce they helped to grow.  Photo courtesty of Longmont YMCA

Local kids proudly displaying produce they helped to grow. Photo courtesty of Longmont YMCA

Last summer, the YMCA did a full expansion of the farm with 90 tomato plants, 120 peppers, onions, herbs, cantaloupe, potatoes, greens and more. Honey bees buzzed around the garden, while chickens allowed kids to have actual chores to tend to.

Volunteers became the heart and soul of the farm, helping out in numerous ways throughout the growing season.

“Last season we were able to give away more than 1,800 pounds of produce,” Fernandez says. “And through our partnership with El Comite, we were able to do food share program out of the building.”

Family participation became a big part of the farm and its mission to teach, feed and share. Kids learned about the full circle of where food comes from, from starting seeds to tending in the garden to kitchen safety and food preparation. The kids truly get excited about cooking with produce they have helped to grow.

Fernandez adds,  “The YMCA is for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility and those three things came together in no way better than in the Y educational farm. You really saw families come together.”

Moore became involved in teaching families about the benefits of growing their own food, eating right and living a healthy lifestyle. “I look forward to being an example so they can have a better life.”

While the Longmont YMCA educational farm doesn’t charge for participation, it thrives from its active volunteers that tend to the earth and create produce for many to enjoy. Other Longmont community gardens offer plots where people can tend to their own space and plants to enjoy for themselves or share with friends.

Annie Sweeney, the Program Director for Growing Gardens, says the 11th Avenue Community Garden and Alta Community Garden

Raspberries ready for picking at Ollin Farms. Photo courtesty of Ollin Farms

Raspberries ready for picking at Ollin Farms.
Photo courtesty of Ollin Farms

in Longmont began from an effort for families and neighbors to come together.

“The city of Longmont wanted to see more community gardens within the city limits because they see how the gardens bring people together to grow food, share food and get to know each other,” Sweeney says.

These two community gardens, along with several in Boulder, offer plots where people can rent a certain size space for the season. Fees are based on the size of plot, and include water and use of garden tools. Inside the garden plots, it’s completely up to the gardener of what they want to grow and how they make their space come alive for the season.

While Sweeney says it’s certainly an individual effort to grow a garden, there are many gardeners who are part of group or a local nonprofit that tend to their soil. There are also organized work days in the garden, which promotes family and neighborhood camaraderie.

“We’ve seen a huge interest in community gardens within the last five years, with a lot focused on healthy eating initiatives,” she says. “I think we’ve all become so disconnected as a society, so families are coming together to teach their kids about where food comes from and how to take it into your kitchen and cook with it. And at a community garden, people are learning from each other.”

A youth summer class harvests lettuce at Ollin Farms  in Longmont. Photo courtesty of Ollin Farms

A youth summer class harvests lettuce at Ollin Farms in Longmont. Photo courtesty of Ollin Farms

While community gardens can teach people a lot about healthy living and growing in the dirt, it may be too much of a time commitment for some. That’s where local produce farms can still provide that great fresh flavor and educational opportunities, but not require quite as much as work.

Ollin Farms is a family run farm tucked between Longmont and Niwot offering up nutrient rich dirt that has grown tasty produce for everyone to enjoy. Owner Mark Guttridge says family friendly activities make the farm a great place to spend a few hours picking up fresh produce from their stand or spending the entire day if people wish to pick their own from the field.

One of the most popular you pick it options is the raspberry patch that offers up the chance to pop fresh berries directly from the vines.

“So many kids are disconnected from farms and don’t ever get the experience of growing and tending to a farm lifestyle,” Guttridge says. “Getting kids on a farm allows them to understand the process of growing.”

Summer camps have been a great opportunity for kids to learn about the planting and growing process, along with all the tools needed to start their own gardens. “Kids really become excited about being at the farm and getting to take part in chores,” he says. “It’s always amazed me to see how much these kids actually do know. They are very eager to learn about where the food comes from and what varieties grow in Colorado.”

Adults have also come together at Ollin Farms for farm dinners that feature the local produce. This fast growing dinner trend has brought together local neighbors and paired them with a fantastic chef who whips up healthy, flavorful ingredients into a celebration of the harvest.

“Not only are people getting to experience the different veggies grown on the farm, but they get ideas on how to cook with them,” Guttridge says. “The food is always great, but the conversation is always better.”

Growing or buying local produce keeps people looking at how they can sustain themselves right here at home. And by people spending money in their own community, they’re keeping their local economy thriving.

By Kristi Ritter