By Joshua Smith
Curt Collins has had an organic, sustainable garden for four years now, but this is the first year he’s decided to turn it into a business. Its name is Avant Garden. Every Thursday from 3:00-7:00 pm, Curt and his partner John Thompson set up their produce stand on the side of Monteith Gap Rd. It is off Old Cullowhee Rd past the Suds Your Duds Laundromat on the left, just before the bridge. There are several signs posted.
Even after the drought this summer, they still managed to get close to a hundred different plants in the ground, including twenty five different winter crops. Their current crop selection includes several types of lettuce, carrots, okra, cress, arugula, spinach, radishes, tomatoes, and hot and sweet peppers among many others. Some different herbs for sale include basil, sage and oregano.
Starting in February, Curt and John began by putting down long sheets of plastic in rows on a third of an acre they’re landlord has let them use. The plastic kills the grass and creates moisture in order to attract earthworms for natural cultivation. No tiller has so far touched the ground there, as Curt wants everything to be as natural as possible.
Before growing the crops they had to “grow the soil”, Curt explains. “Putting down the plastic in the winter gives the ground plenty of time to produce nutrients and create natural defenses.” Another natural defense Curt utilizes is companion planting. Planting certain crops together deters insects. These crops include peppers and herbs, such as basil and oregano.
Another major contributor to the garden’s success is the “compost tea.” This is simply the cut grass and weeds put in a pile and allowed to rot. It’s later recycled as a natural fertilizer to be spread around the crops. This is an example of how everything comes full circle, making it sustainable. The seeds from the crops are collected and reused the following planting season so that there’s no reason to go out and buy materials, other than tools perhaps.
The garden is positioned on a natural flood plain. It sits between Cullowhee Creek and down the mountain across from the Greek Village, which produces rain run-off. On the far end of the garden is a natural sunshield in the form of a canopy created by the large trees that grow around. This protects the lettuce and other sensitive crops during the summer.
Avant Garden is priced cheaper than the grocery stores in town and has managed to sell wholesale to several different local restaurants including Rolling Stone Burrito, Guadalupe Café, and Mad Batter. Karl Engelman of Spring Street Café has been among the biggest purchasers of Avant Garden.
Curt and John have also set up at the Farmer’s Market in Asheville a few times. They explained, however, that the Farmer’s Market is their last priority. The produce stand is number one, followed by restaurant wholesale.
Avant Garden would like to incorporate a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system next season. This is where the customers pre-pay at planting season, knowingly partaking in the risk of a drought or flood among other things. But come harvest time, they can come by the garden once a week and fill up a box of vegetables with the option of picking their own.
Curt hopes that in the future everyone will start their own sustainable garden. “Not only will it decrease pollution, but it will also decrease food costs. It would be nice,” he laughs, “even if it does put me out of business.”