Afton Geodome offers educational opportunities, support for local food pantry

“Never, ever” rarely becomes yes, but it did in Lincoln County for the Afton Food Pantry. A partnership with the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) made it possible for the pantry to offer fresh produce and the newly constructed geodome at the Afton Extension Office and Community Center will help them continue with this effort.

Geodomes extend the growing season, but they can offer so much more. In Afton, the geodome will be the centerpiece of a partnership between the CNP, the Afton Food Pantry, Afton 4-H and Lincoln County agriculture and horticulture, among other community partners. It will be a place for community horticulture programming and hands-on learning for students, as well as a way to give back to the community.

“We’re excited to use the geodome as an educational facility but also as a place to grow fresh produce for the Afton Food Pantry,” said Shelley Balls, the Lincoln County CNP educator.

Sierra Mitchell stand besides the food pantry refrigerators
Sierra Mitchell, director of the Afton Food Pantry, stand besides the food pantry refrigerators

The Afton Food Pantry and CNP began working on a Healthy Food Pantry Project in late 2018. Balls assisted the pantry in securing grants that resulted in new refrigerators for the pantry and being able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, for pantry patrons.

Sierra Mitchell, the director of the Afton Food Pantry, calls this the healthy fresh fruits and vegetables incentive.

“I never, ever thought that we’d be having fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Mitchell, who started the pantry three years ago. “It is not something that ever dawned on me. You think of a food bank and you think, dry goods. When Shelley came to us with the healthy fresh fruits and vegetables incentive, we went, ‘This is an amazing fit!’.”

Mitchell purchases fresh fruits and vegetables for pantry patrons every week and patrons look forward to the weekly produce.

“The patrons light up when they see a table full of fresh produce and milk and eggs and cheese,” Mitchell said.

As the grant funding for the pantry to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables comes to an end, Mitchell and Balls are looking for ways to keep fresh produce available.

Sierra Mitchell and Shelley Balls paint the geodome base.
Sierra Mitchell and Shelley Balls paint the geodome base.

“We’re trying to get a sustainable system so we don’t need as much funding every year in order to offer those produce items every week,” said Balls.

The geodome provides an avenue to help accomplish this sustainability.

“We are to be a beneficiary of some of those plots within that geodome, so that is a way that we will be able to grow more produce to benefit our patrons,” said Mitchell.

Securing volunteers, especially in the summer, is one of the challenges Balls and Mitchell see. This is where community partnerships become essential.

County Commissioner Bob King helps pull the sides tight while the plastic is pulled over the geodome frame.
County Commissioner Bob King helps pull the sides tight while the plastic is pulled over the geodome frame.

Hudson Hill, agriculture and horticulture extension educator in Afton, and Shar Perry, the Afton 4-H and youth development educator, both with the University of Wyoming Extension, will provide programming in the geodome. Don McAdams, a board member for the Afton Food Pantry, plans to involve local students.

“Don McAdams, a teacher at Swift Creek High School, has a lot of gardening experience,” Balls said. “He is planning on bringing some students over and doing a lot of work in [the geodome] and having them be able to see their work, their plants grow and then be able to donate that to the Afton Food Pantry.”

The newly formed geodome board has some planning to do, including purchasing water troughs, which will be used for the garden plots inside the geodome. Next spring, the growing will begin, with many helping hands along the way.

This geodome was funded by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture as part of the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant. Ted Craig, who administers the grant, coordinated the build along with Coleman Griffith, Balls, Mitchell, Shane Robinson, Shar Perry, county commissioner Bob King, and community volunteers Ted Carlisle and Jim and Susan Heartline.

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Photos by Kali Goodenough.