grant for three downtown locations

US: Tiny downtown greenhouse grows veggies for Wyo. coffee shop

Melodie Edwards, owner of Night Heron Books and Coffeehouse in Laramie, WY, plans to use a new greenhouse in front of the downtown store to grow greens, herbs and vegetables for use in the coffee shop's offerings, and she hopes to keep things growing year-round.

"We'll be experimenting with what works to grow in a greenhouse in Laramie, Wyo., that we can use in our menu at the coffee shop," she said.

Night Heron joins Sweet Melissa Café and Big Hollow Food Co-op as local businesses that will be growing produce to use in their operations, thanks to the efforts of Feeding Laramie Valley. The organization secured a grant it used to purchase supplies to build installations at the three downtown locations.

Feeding Laramie Valley is an organization that helps grow community gardens, grows produce and collects donated produce to give to local nonprofits, and promotes community food projects.

Feeding Laramie Valley worked with local gardening expert Trish Penny on the greenhouse design. It was built by contractor Tim Nyquist.

Penny said it's a prototype she hopes to improve in the future.

"A lot of people think in Laramie that you really can't grow much here, but you really can," she said. "You just have to work with the elements. The greenhouse was to show people that you can grow different foods here."

The project also demonstrates that food can be grown in small spaces or even indoors, she said, and can extend the local growing season.

Night Heron has strived to use local ingredients since it opened its coffee shop several years ago, Edwards said, and growing food onsite is a natural extension of that idea. She said she loved the idea when approached by Feeding Laramie Valley.

"We totally embraced it immediately and have been really excited to use fresh herbs in all of our quiches and soups and sandwiches," she said.

Edwards is currently growing rosemary, parsley, two kinds of basil, spinach, lettuce and eggplant.

"I'll probably be using the rosemary today in a white bean-rosemary spread that I make a sandwich with. We're always using our herbs," she said.

She's hoping to experiment with cold-weather greens this winter in the greenhouse, which sits outside the store's South-facing front.

In addition to augmenting the store's pantry, the greenhouse is proving itself to be an educational tool, she said, as customers have been asking her about what she's growing.

"A lot of people move to Laramie thinking that you can't grow anything, but actually greens grow better here than anyplace else," she said.

At Sweet Melissa Café, a small garden has taken up real estate along part of one interior wall, owner Melissa Murphy said. She's currently growing oregano, chives, basil, parsley and chard. With growing lights, the garden could be productive year-round.

"Mostly herbs, just because space is pretty limited," she said. "You can grow a lot of herbs in a small space."

Peggy McCrackin, Feeding Laramie Valley's Shares Program director, said the businesses take care of the watering, maintenance and harvesting, and they use whatever the gardens produce for their operations.

"We wanted to do something that's visible for the community but also useful for businesses," she said.

The organization approached the businesses it thought could benefit from food grown on-site.

"These are businesses that would use home-grown food. It's not useful to every business," she said.

Edwards called the project a "collaborative effort" with Feeding Laramie Valley.

"We're totally grateful that they thought of us, and it's pretty cool that the community gets to see this experiment in action," she said.

Grant money came from Union Pacific Foundation and Food Dignity, a USDA-funded research project at the University of Wyoming. For more information about Feeding Laramie Valley, go to www.feedinglaramievalley.org.

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