Valley food activist and seed-saver Manon Gaudreau found a passion for gardening and community service after a career in the computer-science industry.
“I love living here,” Gaudreau said. “I love that it is a small place and easy to make connections and have an impact on our community.”
Gaudreau is treasurer of the Grange Hall in Hailey, a certified master gardener and a seed-saver of local vegetable varieties for the local seed bank. She and her husband, Aubrey Stephens, are volunteer photographers for the Footlight Dance Co.
Before coming to the Wood River Valley in 2010, Gaudreau, 63, was known in the telecommunications industry for producing algorithms that modeled the probability of blocked calls in long-distance telephone networks.
Born in Ottawa and raised in Quebec, she was inspired to learn about gardening when her first grandchild was born.
“My daughter asked me how to start a small garden, so I took all the gardening classes I could to learn how,” she said.
Gaudreau attended classes with Dick Springs, the founder of the Sustainability Center in Hailey, and later became a certified naturalist and master gardener through the University of Idaho Agricultural Extension Service.
“I learned about horticulture, but also about trees, grasses and insects,” she said. “My instructors were pushing integrated pest management, which uses traps [and] natural predators such as ladybugs or hand-picking of insects, rather than the use of pesticides.”
A founding volunteer for Idaho’s Bounty food co-op, Gaudreau started the 5B Local Food website and has recently been working with the Local Food Alliance.
In 2013, she helped found the School Food Action Group, a grassroots organization advocating for healthy scratch-cooked food in Blaine County schools.
“We lobbied for a few years [and] encountered some resistance, and so I took a class in advocacy and came to realize that we can work outside the School District,” she said. “Ali Long then came along and started the Local Food Alliance, which is doing some of that work.”
Three years ago, Gaudreau began serving as treasurer of the Upper Big Wood River Grange 192, in Hailey.
“I was so glad to connect with past members of the grange, people who wanted me to take it over and not let it die,” she said. “As farmers decreased in number, granges have shifted toward community service. It is an institution that can help us move forward the local food movement.”
Gaudreau brought to the grange several projects related to local agriculture. At the last board meeting, the grange members voted to use a small camping cooler as a seed vault, which will receive 25 percent of seeds harvested from 30 seed-saving gardeners in the Wood River Valley.
“The seed library distributes the seeds back to the public for free,” she said.
Gaudreau will be working this spring on a gardener’s docent program with Lynea Petty of The Hunger Coalition, helping to organize volunteers at the coalition’s Bloom Garden in Quigley Canyon.
“There were 200 volunteers last summer and they were able to walk away from working on the farm with several pounds of produce each day,” Gaudreau said. “Eventually, the docents will offer guidance to other small gardens and farms in the valley.”
Gaudreau said she feels like she has always been an activist. This week, her studies online include a class by Jean Houston called “Feminine Influencers,” about the empowerment of women and how to become influential leaders.
“It’s about stepping forward and bringing a new future into time,” she said.
For more information about the grange hall docent program in Hailey, go to grange.org/upperbigwoodriverid192/docents/.