Woman’s prior hardship served 
as fertilizer for garden project

Kim Wille of Growing Food Forward describes to students in the sustainable science class at Yampah Mountain High School that the seeds in the packet she’s holding are descendants of plants grown by Thomas Jefferson in his garden at Monticello. Wille’s organization promotes community gardening and donations of some of the resulting yield as a way of relieving hunger from Parachute to Aspen. Growing Food Forward last year helped provide more than 8,600 pounds of fresh produce to Lift-Up, a local organization that provides food for the needy.



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Kim Wille of Growing Food Forward describes to students in the sustainable science class at Yampah Mountain High School that the seeds in the packet she’s holding are descendants of plants grown by Thomas Jefferson in his garden at Monticello. Wille’s organization promotes community gardening and donations of some of the resulting yield as a way of relieving hunger from Parachute to Aspen. Growing Food Forward last year helped provide more than 8,600 pounds of fresh produce to Lift-Up, a local organization that provides food for the needy.

An animated Kim Wille talks about starting small plants after a class during which sustainable science students at Yampah Mountain High School learned how to germinate seeds inside of moist napkins placed in plastic bags.



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An animated Kim Wille talks about starting small plants after a class during which sustainable science students at Yampah Mountain High School learned how to germinate seeds inside of moist napkins placed in plastic bags.

Kim Wille talks about plans for growing food in the green house at Yampah Mountain High School. The dirt in the green house has been fallow all winter as they try to eliminate an invasion of weeds.



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Kim Wille talks about plans for growing food in the green house at Yampah Mountain High School. The dirt in the green house has been fallow all winter as they try to eliminate an invasion of weeds.

Kim Wille, second from left, counts out 10 seeds from a packet as she teaches sustainable science students how to germinate seeds to check the viability of those in the older packets. From left to right are Rabecca Sirotek of Rifle, Haley Blea of New Castle and Kaycee Womack of Rifle.



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Kim Wille, second from left, counts out 10 seeds from a packet as she teaches sustainable science students how to germinate seeds to check the viability of those in the older packets. From left to right are Rabecca Sirotek of Rifle, Haley Blea of New Castle and Kaycee Womack of Rifle.

A minute example of Kim Wille’s large collection of seeds are packets of descendants from plants grown by Thomas Jefferson in his Monticello garden in the late 1700s, bottom, and artistic covers of packets from Seed Library.



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A minute example of Kim Wille’s large collection of seeds are packets of descendants from plants grown by Thomas Jefferson in his Monticello garden in the late 1700s, bottom, and artistic covers of packets from Seed Library.

Kim Wille carries a box of seeds and germination supplies down the hall from the science room to the art room at Yampah Mountain High School as she prepares to teach the science students how to germinate seeds in moist napkins. Wille runs Growing Food Forward, which feeds the hungry from Aspen to Rifle.



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Kim Wille carries a box of seeds and germination supplies down the hall from the science room to the art room at Yampah Mountain High School as she prepares to teach the science students how to germinate seeds in moist napkins. Wille runs Growing Food Forward, which feeds the hungry from Aspen to Rifle.

QUICKREAD

Kim Doyle Wille

Age: 59

Years in western Colorado: 39

One thing most people don’t know about me: “Twenty years ago while (I was) checking out at our local El Jebel City Market, Princess Diana, dressed in everyday clothes and with princes William and Harry and a couple of low-profile bodyguards, got in line right behind me. We had a brief exchange and Prince Harry chimed in, too. At the time, I had shoulder-length hair with the exception of a waist-length, thin braid down my back. As I was putting my groceries in my car, I realized the Royals were near when I heard Prince Harry say, ‘Mum, did you see that lady’s (braid) down her back? Why does she only grow part of her hair that way?’ Princess Diana responded, ‘I don’t know. Harry — why don’t you ask her?’ We ended up having a great conversation, with them telling me how much they loved Colorado, that they’d been bowling at El Jebowl (in El Jebel) the night before, were going to go rafting that day, and were enjoying staying at Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s house. I ... used to play soccer with Kurt for a few years, whenever he was in Aspen, so we had a great conversation, once (Princess Diana) learned that connection and that I played ‘football.’”



During seven years of unemployment, Kim Doyle Wille came to rely on cheap but unhealthy food and paid the price.

Her weight blossomed, her teeth hurt, she was becoming depressed, she wasn’t eating fresh produce, and none was available at the local food pantries.

“Obesity and hunger are two sides of the same malnutrition coin,” Wille says now.

Since her own trying days, Wille has managed to fashion a job for herself that lets her help combat the very problem she saw besetting her and others during the economic downturn.

She is founder and executive director of Growing Food Forward, which promotes community gardening and donations of some of the resulting yield as a way of relieving hunger from Parachute to Aspen.

Working with Garfield County’s LiveWell obesity prevention program, Growing Food Forward last year helped supply more than 8,600 pounds of fresh produce to Lift-Up, a local organization that provides food for the needy. Lift-Up Executive Director Kim Loving said that has helped Lift-Up participate in a national trend of pantries trying to shift to providing healthier food to clients.

“We really appreciate everything that she has done,” Loving said of Wille. “And this year she says she plans on having more for us.”

Said Wille, “This year we have 25 projects in seven towns, and they’re huge projects — big.”

Many of her group’s projects include multiple gardens. Last year, it was involved with more than 100 gardens.

Wille is on a new life path that first took shape about four years ago when she won an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile ride by entering a contest asking entrants what kind of “good-mood mission” they would go on if picked. Her mission was to get gardeners to bring fresh produce to food pantries.

After she organized a small-scale effort along those lines during the Wienermobile’s local appearance, Wille began to visualize a more permanent undertaking and founded what she initially called Plant a Row to End Hunger.

Growing Food Forward involves governments, schools, libraries, nonprofits and others in promoting gardening and healthy eating. Donations obtained from seed companies have helped the organization’s efforts.

Wille always has liked to cook and garden, and had previous experience with the Basalt & Rural Fire Protection District doing work in logistics and incident command. She felt she was well-positioned for her new role, and for tying together resources the way her organization ultimately has.

Wille is on the steering committee of LiveWell, and her organization received a LiveWell grant for a garden in Rifle. She has helped with several other projects related to LiveWell in several other communities in the area.

“She is definitely an integral part of our LiveWell coalition and provides lots of resource connections for other organizations as well as ours,” said the program’s coordinator, Dana Wood.

Wood said LiveWell is working to combat food insecurity and overcome challenges to healthy food access and affordability at the local level.

“The projects that she works on definitely work toward that goal,” Wood said.

Wille is a Colorado native and daughter of a U.S. Air Force captain, and grew up in Georgetown. She used to trap falcons at Genesee Park with her father, and said that at age 16 she started the first 4-H mountaineering and survival course in the nation.

She lost her husband, Raoul Wille, part of a well-known Aspen family, to the mountains in 1998 when he died in Nepal at the age of 45 from altitude sickness.

Wille did restorative justice work in the courts for 11 years before funding ran out and she ended up jobless. She was on food stamps for a time, received some handouts from Lift-Up and scraped by on a diet of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and other inexpensive food that wasn’t always very nutritious. She also saw others who, like herself, weren’t eating produce and were suffering ill effects.

Wille changed her diet in 2013, the same year her program was involved in getting 35 community gardens going. These days she brims with energy as she works long but rewarding days on her organization’s many endeavors. It’s gotten involved in things such as composting, worm farming, teaching gardening and creating an inventory of seeds adapted to the local climate. Some of this year’s projects include organizing canning, preserving and healthy cooking classes; expanding into beekeeping; offering tours of local agricultural operations as a fundraiser; setting up seed libraries at local libraries; and distributing porch garden kits to needy people in apartments and condominiums.

“She does have a lot of energy and go-get-‘em. ... She’s got big ideas and she’s constantly working,” said Loving, Lift-Up’s director.

“She’s an ecstatic person and makes everything seem like it’s going to be an amazing time, and when she has us do projects and stuff it’s actually fun,” said Nicole Barker, a junior at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs.

On a recent day at Yampah, Wille had students in a sustainable science class working on a project to check if the seeds she had received were still viable or were too old.

Students at the school also have served as mentors for students in a gardening project at Glenwood Springs Elementary School. Barker and fellow junior James Ball played leading roles for Yampah in that project.

“She’s full of life and she can keep kids entertained,” Barker said. “I know when I was little, having to go and garden or something like that would be so boring to me.”

Barker and Ball found value in helping youth who often come from families who do more going out to eat than gardening.

“They were saying that their own parents don’t even know this stuff, or know how to grow their own food,” Ball said.

Barker found parents to be “ecstatic” about what their kids were learning.

Wille said she recently ran into a family and the mom talked appreciatively about harvesting tomatoes all winter from a starter plant Wille had provided her child.

LiveWell surveyed children participating in Growing Food Forward’s learning garden in Rifle and found that about half reported that their families needed food. Those children were invited to participate in follow-up camps where they learned how to harvest the food and prepare meals.

“The kids just loved making their own food in the garden and it really connected the dots,” Wille said.

Sally Kilton, who teaches Yampah’s sustainable science class, says the involvement in Growing Food Forward by the high school students has proven beneficial for them.

“It’s really enlightening for the students to know that their work, later down the road, is going to actually feed families up and down the Roaring Fork Valley that otherwise wouldn’t have access to fresh, organic vegetables,” Kilton said.

“They’re learning, they’re teaching, and it’s so uplifting,” Wille said.

She said the favorite thing about what she does is the ideas that are created by the community itself.

The program has brought together communities and different cultures, including people who don’t speak English, “because everybody is trying to figure out how to garden and cook together,” she said.

She thinks Americans had to go through the Great Recession to understand what was lost when a generation wasn’t taught home economics in school. People are having to relearn cooking, healthy eating, gardening, “and getting back to the community and taking care of each other,” Wille said.





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