TOMATO INDEPENDENCE PROJECT
What if 20 percent of the food consumed in the Treasure Valley came from a local source? The Treasure Valley Food Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works on raising awareness about our local food system and collaborating with other groups to increase the amount of food grown and consumed locally, hopes to reach that goal by 2020. To nudge that along, it launched the Tomato Independence Project this year. According to the coalition, research shows that the average American eats more than 90 pounds of tomatoes each year. Getting folks to enjoy tomatoes grown locally made sense, and encouraging them to grow their own was even more exciting.
The project kicked off in January and February with a series of free seed starting classes at local nurseries. Representatives from the coalition talked tomato growing basics before giving participants the seeds for four varieties of tomato plants - Mortgage Lifter, Early Girl, Sun Gold and Tumbling Tom Red. Around 300 people attended the classes at Edwards Greenhouse, FarWest, Franz Witte and the North End Organic Nursery, according to Jennifer Miller, a board member with the coalition.
Miller, who describes the community's response to the project as "amazing," says there is already talk of doing the project again in 2014. This year's focus is fresh tomatoes. Next year people will learn how to make their tomatoes last far beyond the season through different methods of preservation.
"We wanted people to discover how great a tomato can taste when it is right off the vine," Miller says.
Fresh tomatoes can be enjoyed in this area during July, August, September and sometimes into October (depending on weather). The coalition will post ongoing activities such as tomato tastings on its website (treasurevalleyfoodcoalition.org) and Facebook page.
And a talk from author Barry Estabrook is scheduled for Oct. 2. Estabrook is the author of "Tomatoland: How Modern Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit." The location has not been determined yet but will be announced in the coming months (along with other details) on the coalition's website.
Those who missed out on the seed starting classes can still get involved in the Tomato Independence Project. Here's how:
- Purchase seed starts or plants from local growers at area nurseries or farmers markets. (Plant starts of the featured varieties will be available at Edwards Greenhouse, North End Organic Nursery and Franz Witte.)
- Encourage area businesses to sell locally grown tomatoes; ask for them at restaurants and at grocery stores.
- If you already grow tomatoes, share some with neighbors who haven't had the chance to taste a locally grown tomato.
- Purchase a Tomato Independence Project T-shirt at the North End Organic Nursery or Edwards Greenhouse.
In addition to the Tomato Independence Project, the Treasure Valley Food Coalition offers many opportunities for people to learn more about eating locally grown food, including Taste 208, a Thursday night series that puts the spotlight on various food/beer/wine pairings, and the Grow Your Own Food series that features discussions on how to plant in various climates and conditions. For information, visit http://treasurevalleyfoodcoalition.org/?cat=11
JOANN'S IRIS GARDEN
1325 N. Hesse Lane, Eagle (between Eagle and Ballantyne roads off Floating Feather)
JoAnn Burrell is an iris fan, and that statement stands on its own once you see her labor of love in Eagle. There are nearly 400 irises to admire when her garden is in full swing, including tall bearded irises and rebloomers. Look for new varieties this year in addition to those favorites.
Irises can be purchased for $4.50 each, and she also sells gift certificates.
It's easy to get excited as the days get warmer in the early spring. And Burrell understands that excitement and anticipation. But she has stopped posting an opening date on her website because it depends on weather, and it can vary wildly. In the past, she has counted on opening for Memorial Day weekend, but she doesn't make promises anymore.
"I never know for sure because of the weather," Burrell said, "so I always tell people when they see irises blooming in their neighborhood, we will be opening."
U-PICK FARM (HILL ROAD GARDENS)
5600 Hill Road, Boise
There is an acre of produce growing off Hill Road, and the community is invited to pick vegetables during U-Pick days starting in early June and continuing through the end of the growing season. Bring your own bag and pay $5 to fill it up with produce from the farm; children can fill a bag for $2.50. U-Pick days begin June 1 and are offered weekly on Saturdays from 1:30 to 6 p.m. until the end of the month (note that the dates are subject to change). U-Pick days and hours change in July, August and September. Visitors are invited to have a picnic on the farm during U-Pick days. Visit the official website for more information and an updated schedule.
Want the experience of planting vegetables but lack the space to do it at home? Visit the farm for a U-Plant workshop, where participants learn how to plant seeds and then get a voucher to return for a U-Pick day. Workshops are held at 5 p.m. on Sundays throughout the spring and summer; the first workshop is April 7. Sign up on the Hill Road Gardens website.
No time (or space) to enjoy a garden at home? No worries. There are many community gardens around the Valley that allow folks to participate in the gardening experience. Here are just a few to consider:
MERIDIAN COOPERATIVE GARDEN
Julius Kleiner Memorial Park, 1900 Records Ave., Meridian; firstname.lastname@example.org
Free gardening space is available for anyone to use in this community garden. Use the space the way you would at your own home: Plan to do your own planting and maintenance. The main restriction is that you can't sell anything you grow here. Any excess crops are donated to the Meridian Food Bank.
BORAH COMMUNITY GARDEN
Borah Park, 6643 W. Cassia St., Boise
This popular garden space, located in Borah Park, is utilized by a broad variety of people in the community. Although some live in the Borah neighborhood, others travel across town to maintain their garden plot here. Space is occasionally available (for an annual fee). Email email@example.com to inquire about space availability for 2013.
DOWNTOWN TEACHING FARM
On the corner of 12th and Fort streets, Boise
Students and teachers from Boise High School manage this urban farm, and community members are encouraged to pitch in to help maintain the space and learn more about gardening. To see a list of current needs and activities, visit http://downtownteachingfarm.blogspot.com.
- Visit Let's Move Boise online for a list of other community gardens: www.letsmoveboise.com/?page_id=125.
- Many community gardens provide food to area pantries. Learn where to donate fresh produce through Let's Move Boise's pantry distribution list: www.letsmoveboise.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/20120905133212598.pdf.
GROW A ROW
Let's Move Boise and the Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS) developed Grow a Row, now in its second year, to encourage families to develop healthier eating habits and to help fight community hunger by donating some of the produce they grow to local food banks. Get started by picking up a packet at one of the following locations:
- Boise Urban Garden School, 731 N. 15th St.
- Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 Old Penitentiary Road
- Healthwise, 2601 Bogus Basin Road
- Boise Parks & Recreation Administration Office, 1104 Royal Blvd.
Grow a Row participants get six packets of seeds, planting and gardening tips, a seed planting guide and a distribution list for local food pantries and community centers.
Partners for the Grow a Row project include the Boise Urban Garden School, Idaho Botanical Garden, Healthwise, The Idaho Foodbank, Boise Parks & Recreation and the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health.