By Michelle DiMuzio, Communications Coordinator
Known for its freshwater lake, striking vistas, and outdoor recreation, Lake Tahoe is often considered one of the most pristine areas in the country. While people visiting might only experience beautiful landscapes, the locals are familiar with another story — food access issues.
When Slow Food Lake Tahoe (SFLT), currently led by President Trish Geary and six other Board members, took over a demonstration garden formerly run by a local hunger relief organization, they originally donated the food through a meals-on-wheels program to a senior citizen community. “In our athletic, mountain town, seniors tend to get left behind,” Trish explained. After partnering with this organization for a few years, the SFLT Board of Directors decided to transition the garden to a food bank garden, now officially called the Slow Food Lake Tahoe Food Bank Garden, in which one hundred percent of the produce grown is donated to the local hunger relief agency, Sierra Community House.
The SFLT Food Bank Garden has grown exponentially each year; in 2021, they were able to feed over 75 locals each week with 388 pounds of culturally appropriate food for a predominantly Latinx recipient base, with the help of over 850+ volunteer hours. The garden also recently gained a full-time garden manager, which has been crucial to the current success of the garden. To fund these operations, SFLT has hosted several fundraisers, auctions, and applied for various local grants through community foundations.
In 2020, the community was searching for other ways to grow food locally and the idea of launching a community garden was born. “I can’t believe we actually did it,” Trish shared. “With the extra time in 2020 and no farmers’ markets or in-person events, we realized we had time to fundraise for a whole new space. The parks and recreation department granted us the space next to the food bank garden, which was almost equivalent in size, so we fundraised like crazy and we met our goal of $25,000 through individual donations through the winter of 2020/21 and built the space during the spring of 2021. It was huge.”
This community garden, named the Truckee Community Garden, received an outpouring of support from volunteers, in-kind donations from local businesses, and new and reused materials to build 35 critter-proof beds, which includes five elevated, wheelchair-accessible beds. They sold out the beds in their inaugural year as well as for the 2022 season. “The community garden is a sustainable model,” Trish shared. “The plots are rented to full-time residents on a sliding scale and everyone is responsible for maintaining their beds. We want it to be affordable for everyone; we have several beds that have been awarded via scholarship to those who cannot afford one. All the wheelchair-accessible beds were donated to a group of adults with special needs, who have really enjoyed their time in the garden.”
In addition to managing the gardens, the Lake Tahoe chapter also offers a variety of classes through their Grow-Your-Own workshops, a garden series focused specifically on high-elevation growing. Classes in the past have included germinating and transplanting, growing mushrooms, and preparing spicy salads and leafy greens.
As for the future of the gardens, Trish and the SFLT Board of Directors are continuously seeking new grant and fundraising opportunities to fund current and potentially additional staff members, as well as adding more classes and educational opportunities to serve the community.
To learn more about the garden project, check out Slow Food Lake Tahoe’s website.