Room to grow

Once a week, a garden grows downtown.

The asphalt of Grinnell Street bustles — packed with residents looking for the freshest produce they can get their hands on. Farmers, both professional and novice, set up shop offering nearly every food that can be pulled out of the ground.

It’s a part of the Sheridan Farmers Market and it is one of the most thriving in the region; blossoming into one of the many highlights of downtown Sheridan throughout the summer.

Market Manager Bonnie Gregory said participation in the farmers market has grown exponentially. Last year was the most successful year on record, and Gregory expects that number to be eclipsed in 2015.

Between 60 registered venders at the farmers market, nearly $99,000 was generated in sales last year in a little under 13 weeks. Venders come from all corners of the region, including Nebraska, Montana, Colorado and South Dakota.

The success of the farmers market is part of a national trend of healthier and local eating. The revival of the local food movement has spread throughout the country and has found its way into the the state of Wyoming. Some residents have replaced portions of their yards with vegetable gardens, while additional community gardens are sprouting up annually.

Area schools and restaurants have answered the call as well— filling the bellies of their customers and students with home-grown meals.

“I think a lot of it has to do with education — people are understanding the advantages of growing and buying local foods. People want to know where their food is coming from … and are just aware of the benefits it has for their health and well-being,” Gregory said.

And just because the Wyoming winter keeps the growing season short doesn’t mean local farmers can’t grow quality produce. It might come as a surprise to many that a good portion of fruits and vegetables sold at farmers market came from the Sheridan County area.

“Sheridan is kind of the banana belt of Wyoming,” Gregory said. “People here can grow a wide variety of foods.”

Tomatoes, corn, grapes — all taste just as good coming out of the Wyoming soil as anywhere else. Local farmers have also turned to products like quinoa, an extremely nutritious seed specially grown in higher altitudes such as Wyoming.

Aside from produce, people can find locally made breads, baked goods, spices, herbs and countless other items on the stands of venders.

“There is a misconception that you can’t grow a lot of foods in Wyoming. But that’s simply not true,” Gregory said. “Sheridan can grow many things thanks to season extension techniques like greenhouses and vertical growing.”

One of the farmers beating the seasons is Brad Holliday, the owner-operator of Holliday Family Farms located in Dayton. His passion for organic-growing methods has turned into a career inside cozy confines of a greenhouse operation.

Even when the blustery winds push toward the doors of his greenhouses, ripe-from-the-vine tomatoes grow without fighting the elements. Holliday grows tomatoes year round, raises poultry in the summer and is expanding into other fruits and vegetables as well.

Operations like Holliday’s make Wyoming food independence more within reach and give residents more options for produce.

“There is that old saying — know your farmer, know your food,” Holliday said. “It might be a cliche but it’s true.”

The local food movement has even made its way to the capitol building in Cheyenne. Wyoming House Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, was among those who cosponsored a resolution during Wyoming’s Legislature promoting local food preduction.

House Joint Resolution 06 was passed in the Wyoming Legislature during the 2015 legislative session. The joint resolution supports initiatives that encourage the development of local and regional food systems while promoting entrepreneurship to further advance a local food base in Wyoming.

“I got interested in local food production this summer after seeing how the Sheridan Farmers Market has grown over the last few years,” Berger said. “I believe this is a real opportunity for our traditional farmers and ranchers as well entrepreneurs new to the business. Encouraging this effort is good for Sheridan and the state.”

By Mike Dunn

mike.dunn@thesheridanpress.com

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