Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Bellevue Gardener Grows Goodies and Treats for Hunger Coalition Clients
Deb Strachan built a greenhouse this year for a variety of tomatoes and peppers such as habaneros, Big Jim peppers, bell peppers, Hatch chilies, early jalapenos and peppers that are particularly good for making paste.
Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Deb Strachan used to feed 40 horses that boarded at her ranch.

Now she feeds hundreds of Wood River Valley residents through the Hunger Coalition, along with a few hummingbirds and dozens of bees.

Strachan turned a 100-by-150-foot patch of ground near Bellevue into a bountiful pandemic garden this summer, even as she was learning the ropes of high-altitude gardening in the Wood River Valley. And through her perseverance she’s supplied hundreds of pounds of onions, tomatoes, chilies, cabbage and other produce to The Hunger Coalition.

The pandemic patch includes a pollinator patch with a mix of flowers to feed bees.

“Fifteen months ago, there was nothing here but a shed,” she said. “There’s nothing like a pandemic to get your projects done.”

Strachan moved to the Bellevue area in 2017 after having spent 33 years boarding horses on a large ranch between Colorado Springs and Denver.

“It got too busy there—they were developing and building right and left. I’d been coming here on vacations since I was 12 and it just felt like home,” she said.

Soon after she moved here, Strachan began volunteering with The Hunger Coalition.

Deb Strachan checks some of the starts in her potting shed.

“I was so impressed with them because they’re so much more than a food bank. They have an intern program for kids where they teach the kids not just how to grow things but how to have checking accounts,” she said. “They have a cooking program to help people with diabetes and other health issues to cook right foods. I knew that, when I grew my garden, I’d have a place to donate the excess food.”

While the coronavirus pandemic offered the time to get the garden growing, it presented hurdles, as well.

Strachan ordered seeds in January but they didn’t show up until June. She ordered seed potatoes in February but didn’t get them until July. And she lost some of the chickens that she hopes to enlist in the battle against grasshoppers because of shipping delays.

She even had trouble finding construction supplies like posts and frost cloth.

The sweet pea tipis attract hummingbirds.

But she forged ahead. She designed the garden with the help of Caroline Grist, whom she had volunteered under at the Hunger Coalition.

She built a greenhouse with sheets of polycarbonate plywood left over from the construction of the house on the property. And she installed an exhaust fan she found on the property that comes on when it gets to 80 degrees. Without it, Strachan said, it can get up to 135 degrees in the greenhouse.

She put burlap on hoops and surrounded some of her plants with them to protect them from the winds that blew down the tops of her onion plants.

And she installed an 8-foot tall fence to protect her garden from deer. It’s flexible enough that, if they run into it, they bounce off.

Deb Strachan digs into her broccoli bed.

She’s had competition for what she grows from grasshoppers—she’s fought back with a grasshopper bait that sickens them, cutting into their reproductive cycle. And she’s had help keeping the vole population down with a cat that her partner—a pilot for the State Department-- brought home from Afghanistan.

The orange tabby named Taliban, or Tally for short, can often be seen walking through the garden, a vole in his mouth.

“This is the most challenging garden spot I’ve ever been in,” said Strachan. “In Colorado we had wind but it wasn’t constant. But we had more voles there—and that was before I had Tally.”

Challenges aside, Strachan has counted plenty of successes. She’s started hundreds of seedlings in her potting shed, rocking out to the sound of Bonnie Raitt, Santana, the Grateful Dead and dozens of other bands on her collection of CDs as she works.

She’s tried new plants, like kohlrabi. And she’s learned how she can help plants like beets grow by planting them under peas for shade. She’s grown so many cucumbers, including mini munch cucumbers that are great for snacking, that she can’t keep up with them.

And twice a week—on the days The Hunger Coalition distributes food—she hauls an ever-increasing amount of produce to the nonprofit food bank. She's near her goal of contributing a thousand pounds.

“Her goodies are beautiful,” said Sloan Storey, who runs The Hunger Coalition’s Bloom Truck. “You can tell she’s been working hard and that she has The Hunger Coalition in mind when she does it. It’s another way to provide more produce for a special treat for our clients.”

Strachan is mindful of the difference she’s made.

“What a year it’s been,” she said. “The Hunger Coalition is feeding three to four times as many people because of the pandemic. So, I’m glad I’ve been able to do what I can. It’s a lot of work but very gratifying.”


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