Spring is a busy time for Hunger Coalition Food Production Manager Lynea Petty, aka “farm and garden earth goddess” of the nonprofit organization charged with making sure everyone in the valley has balanced and nutritious meals.
Petty, 39, grew up in Ohio and attended Carleton College in Minnesota, earning a degree in French. She later traveled to Brazil and learned Portuguese. There, she witnessed a level of destruction of tropical forest that turned her attentions to environmental conservation.
“It’s an incredible thing to travel, especially when you can speak the language, and interpret the world a little differently,” she said.
Within a few years, Petty was in the Wood River Valley working as an intern at the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. She needed a second job, so she also managed the Ketchum farmers’ market.
“I was 25 years old and realized that I was in the right community for me. I was also meeting these amazing farmers and learned there was much work to do right here to address the air, water and soil crises that are plaguing the planet,” she said.
Petty’s job running the Hope Garden in Hailey and the Bloom Garden in Quigley Canyon starts in January with a week-by-week crop plan for the entire summer that includes 40 varieties of plants, herbs and vegetables. This year’s harvest will begin with asparagus, radishes, arugula and other greens, and will soon afterward turn out beets, carrots and peas.
“It takes until July to get things like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash,” Petty said.
The Hunger Coalition partners with other groups and the associated programs educate about 500 students, parents and others each summer in small-scale agricultural practices. About 200 show up on a regular basis to weed, harvest and clean produce for distribution, in exchange for a portion of the food they grow.
In 2017, the gardens provided 7,000 pounds of food. In 2018, the amount dropped to 5,200 pounds, due to what Petty described as a “grasshopper plague.”
Whatever the results, Petty said joining with others in the ancient practice of community gardening is a rewarding experience.
“The gardens are beautiful community connection points, with great time spent together outside,” she said.
Petty is an avid rock climber and long-distance runner, but her passion for farming ties her to the broader concerns that informed her youth.
“I see a lot of opportunity for placed-based and watershed-based food systems,” Petty said.
“We can use local knowledge to address food inequity and create human connection. This is very different from a commodity-based agricultural system, which is export-focused and therefore not as sustainable or accountable.”