In 1995, the Lower Arch Viewpoint parking lot was in need of a green thumb’s attention. Earthwork for a parking area had left large areas of soil barren and vulnerable to erosion, and revegetation was in order. Rhonda Gotway Clyde had recently arrived in Moab to work with the National Park Service, and rebuilding the contours of land and reclaiming the soil at this high-visibility center of Utah’s national parks system was her introduction to Moab’s fragile-but-vibrant high desert ecosystem.
Clyde’s five acres in Spanish Valley illustrate the knowledge and experience of cultivating in desert soil she gained during that project and has continued to build in the years since. Once a garden grown mostly with chemical fertilizers in blow sand, or “mineral soil” as it’s called by the more optimistic horticultural specialists in town, today Clyde’s production plot brims with food, color, fragrance and pollinator activity. With some seasonal help and a few work trade members, she serves 20 Community Supported Agriculture members produce from only a quarter-acre of lovingly amended desert soil.
Clyde envisions a day when Moab’s small farms provide a substantial portion of local nutrition, she said. She has produced food here in every parcel of land she could get her hands on, and also welcomed opportunities to serve the community with her knowledge and experience, said Kara Dohrenwend, a friend and chair of the Grand Conservation District.
“Rhonda has made a point of finding the folks who’ve been growing here for generations,” Dohrenwend said. “That kind of community memory is so important. She’s a great example of learning from those who’ve been here a while.”
When a group of cultivators from local organizations like Utah State University-Moab, the Bureau of Land Management, Community Rebuilds and others throughout Moab formed to address mounting mortality issues among native pollinators through the Bee Inspired Garden project, Clyde became involved as a Grand County Conservation District supervisor. She enjoys spending her personal time helping design and plant the gardens around the community, and oftentimes can be seen at first pollinator garden developed by the group at Rotary Park weeding and maintaining plants. She helps develop community education programs, teaching skills like soil development and rainwater collection.
“I’m mostly driven by eating well,” Clyde said with a laugh, when asked what has kept her focus on cultivation over the years. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere, and food is important. If things went down, I want to be able to be healthy and eat good food. I have a huge desire for us to be more sustainable. We have the capability. We have a lot of growers already.”
As the community grows, she hopes to see healthy, native plant populations grow with it, improving the health of an ecosystem that can sustain the health of the community, with the help of willing green thumbs.