by Gretchen Treadwell

Rick Scibelli Jr.

Picture this: over eight pounds of spinach comes out of the garden at 8 am. At 10 am, the grower arrives through the back door of a Durango restaurant, delivering the greens right into the chef’s hands, and by 12 pm, those greens are on a plate, in front of a happy and hungry customer.

Two to four hours. That’s the time it takes for food harvested from the Twin Buttes gardens to arrive at various locations in Durango. Using a highly reciprocal network of alliances, Twin Buttes produce is often pre-sold before the seed even goes in the ground.

Growing since 2008, the Twin Buttes gardens have preceded ground breaking for homes at this 900-acre sustainable community located 2.5 miles west of Durango off Highway 160.

Gabe Eggers, agricultural director, explains how this precedence makes perfect sense: “It’s a realistic way to fulfill the vision of the place because it can take three to seven years to have the growing dialed.”

Of the 900 acres, 775 are dedicated to open space, and two acres to five farm lots. Add to this 40 hens, an apiary of 10 beehives, and ranchlands hosting 30 Black Angus mix cows.

Inherent in the Twin Buttes design is a self-sustaining community for future residents, and a CSA already feeding 25 members. Residents will have the option to receive fresh produce based on this direct access system integrating the vegetable gardens, bees, poultry, and cows. The aim is a local and dependable food source that is sustainably produced.

But with gardens before houses, this picture is much bigger. Woven into the web are several Durango restaurants along with Nature’s Oasis and Durango Natural Foods grocery stores.

“Gabe is a wholesaler,” David Stewart, executive chef at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, says appreciatively. “Participation in local agriculture has changed. We’re not going to the farmer’s market with a couple baskets anymore.” Now, they can call ahead – way ahead. Stewart and Eggers begin discussing harvest as early as February.

Add to this arrangement fair and feasible. The wholesale system Eggers has developed with restaurants like Seasons, the Raider Ridge Café, and Zia Taqueria aligns with what Stewart at Seasons considers fair prices. And due to Eggers’ solid understanding of the demands, it works. On the table at Seasons, this may translate to baby lettuce with Linnaea Farm goat cheese, or campfire garlic, roasted in embers on their wood burning grill for a smoky, sweet caramelized flavor.

Seasons dishes up Twin Buttes spinach, lettuce, and onions most of the year, and last year served potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli, cucumbers, various herbs, and garlic.

At Raider Ridge, Eggers muses, college kids may get a “dose of local spinach – unbeknownst to them” in a breakfast burrito. At Zia, restaurant goers are likely to find cilantro, greens, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers from the gardens, along with ground beef from the Twin Buttes ranch.

Zia’s partnership with Twin Buttes includes Zia’s purchase of the Twin Buttes greenhouse and hoop house.

“We did this so we could help get production going sooner rather than later,” Tim Turner, founder of Zia Taqueria, says. “We’ve worked with Gabe since 2007 and wanted him to have the tools to grow as much for us as possible.”

Tools for Eggers and his cohorts at Twin Buttes go deeper than shovels and hoes, and tap into what Eggers calls cultural ecologist consciousness. Partnerships with organizations like Cooking Matters, the Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado, and the Old Fort at Hesperus further advance his goal to impact choices. It’s a shift in the way we eat our food, and the way we think about our food. If food is more accessible and available locally, Eggers believes, “that, in itself, creates a sense of community – relationships with the earth and with each other.”

Teaching also abounds onsite. “The design of the garden caters to education and diverse ways to work with landscape,” Eggers says. The hillside flows with herb beds, raspberries, and flowering perennials for the bees. Day campers pick these raspberries and learn why the berries grow so well in the particular soil, and students visiting the apiary will explore methods of reviving honeybee populations.

Eggers has also led an apprentice program at Twin Buttes since its inception. Apprentices study cultivation and garden planning, while full-time and part-time gardeners and volunteers weed, water, and harvest.

That driving desire for food to travel the least possible distance has also prompted Eggers to help launch an alternative-market project for farmers around the Four Corners, beginning this summer. With the ties Eggers has already created, he hopes a distribution center can allow produce to remain in the wholesale market once the Twin Buttes residents actually arrive.

“It can be as simple as what we eat for lunch to what we do for a living – it all has a ripple effect,” Eggers says. `