WINTER'S BOUNTY

While weather is frightful, the greens are delightful

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Vic Vanik, co-owner of Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery in Dolores

Vic and Gail Vanik talk with the fervor of evangelists about their greens. But when you consider that these unassuming crops have proven both money maker and miracle cure for the couple, it's easy to understand why.

Two years ago, Vic learned his cholesterol was dangerously high. His doctor recommended cholesterol-reducing drugs, but the couple asked first to try bringing it down through a change in diet.

As owners of the Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery in Dolores, they grew countless plants through the depth of winter but none of them were intended for eating. That year, however, they started a little spinach and lettuce for their own personal consumption.

After Vic's cholesterol made a precipitous decline and visitors to the greenhouse kept asking to buy their dinner salad, they decided they might be onto something. The following year they planted a lot more greens, this time to sell to the public.

"We've kind of been blown away. We were not expecting the response we got," Gail said.

This year, they have 23,000 square feet of greenhouse space dedicated to produce. They are harvesting nearly 500 pounds of greens a week and up to 30 pounds of tomatoes a day. They are also growing eggplant, broccoli and herbs. Their produce is sold to three area school districts, including Durango, restaurants and direct to the public at their store and through a weekly Winter Farmers Market they hold at the nursery. The event has attracted dozens of venders and hundreds of shoppers, who jam their parking lot to capacity.

In 2013, Today's Garden Center named them the No. 1 most revolutionary garden center in the country.

"We started just playing with it," Gail said. "We had no idea what was going to happen."

OTHER MODELS

Nestled in between a day care and residence on historic Third Avenue sits Turtle Lake Refuge's in-town location. In the backroom and upstairs sunroom of the converted house, however, tall racks of flats line the walls receiving a combination of natural and electrical light. Among the crops are sunflower and mustard greens, buckwheat, wheatgrass and pea shoots. The environs couldn't be more different than the Vaniks sprawling complex along a dirt road in rural Montezuma County. Nonetheless, around 35 pounds of greens a week are produced there for commercial sale. The refuge supplies not only local schools and natural foods stores, but also a variety of downtown restaurants.

Refuge founder Katrina Blair said the demand for their greens has steadily increased.

The greens fetch $10 a pound or tray.

Time will tell whether the economics make sense for more growers to jump into the winter market, driving down the price through competition. But for those hankering for a plate of fresh cut greens without laying down a big wad of green, there is another option.

Any sunny window sill is a candidate for growing space.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I filled a couple dozen containers with organic soil from the hardware store and planted micro and mixed-salad greens from Botanical Interests, a Colorado-based seed company.

My crops are aided by grow lights, but if they were next to a south-facing window, this probably wouldn't be necessary. Already, I have enough to make a sandwich with homegrown greens every day of the week. When it comes to farm-to-table, you can't get more local than that.

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery in Dolores dedicates more than 20,

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Rhonda Elwood and Daniel Mansfield sort sunflower greens at Four Sea

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Vic Vanik, co-owner of Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery in Dolores,

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Prices for locally grown produce jump significantly in the winter.

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald The price for locally grown tomatoes, such as these bush champion to

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Vic Vanik, co-owner of Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery in Dolores,

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Demand for local produce, such as this eggplant, has prompted Four S

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JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Gail Vanik, co-owner of Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery in Dolore