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Senior gives a reason to come to Elk Creek
Mellise Albright didn't know she had a green thumb.
What she had was an idea that, when planted like a seed, grew into a flourishing business for the entire family.
The Elk Creek teenager, now 18, started the nursery "Plants by Mel" in the foothill community of Elk Creek four years ago.
"I'm really excited about it because I want Elk Creek to have something more than a store and a school," Albright said. "I feel this is something that benefits everyone."
What Albright initiated as a small venture to help her family during tough economic times, is now being taken to the next level.
The high school senior has created a family-operated business inspired by "agricultural tourism," the concept that even 1 acre of land can feed, educate and entertain visitors, while providing a source of supplemental income for the owner.
Plants by Mel has a nursery and produce stand, and Albright hopes eventually to add wood and metal art that helps attract visitors to the area.
"It's all pretty amazing," said Albright's mother, Molly Albright Bailey, who helps with growing and selling, and will continue the venture when her daughter goes off to college in the fall.
Bailey and her husband Marty, of M & M Handyman Service, are helping Albright put Elk Creek on the map as a destination spot for tourists.
"It's beautiful up here," Bailey said. "Elk Creek has a wonderful antique store and we have the lake (Stony Gorge). There is also a great restaurant."
Albright started the business to help the family when her stepfather, a carpenter and handyman, was injured in a fall from a horse.
Today, Plants by Mel has grown into a year-round business, growing produce and fruit trees for Elk Creek residents and beyond.
For a nursery, Elk Creek's high altitude and cool growing season provides the family with an unusual opportunity in vegetable farming.
"We will have winter vegetables in early summer, long after the traditional season is over," said Bailey, who is gearing up for the area's farmers markets, and is familiar face each Friday at the year-round Chapmantown Farmers Market in Chico. "We will have vegetables in June and July the farmers in the valley won't have."
Plants by Mel grows about 13 variety of salad greens, and has planted 300 varieties of seed this year.
The nursery also sells fruit trees, and has been using social media sites like Facebook to increase business.
Bailey said the family has learned all they can from agriculture tourism workshops and other sources about how to farm on small lots of land, and making their operation a must see for visitors passing through town.
Through intensive farming, such as growing compatible above ground plants with root vegetables, Plants by Mel can significantly increase yield, reduce costs and make food more affordable to the consumer, Bailey said
"We even have a potato tower," she said. "There is no reason in this day and age for anyone to go hungry."
On Saturday, Plants by Mel delivered its first "CSA boxes," filled to overflowing with fresh greens and produce, and other local products.
CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a grower, Bailey said.
Plants by Mel hopes by selling the wooden crates full of fresh produce, the community will have the opportunity to eat ultra-fresh food with more flavor and vitamin benefits, learn more about vegetable varieties and new ways of cooking — and develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food.
By working with other local growers, Plants by Mel adds other commodities to the boxes, like Elk Creek's famous star thistle honey and information about Divide Ranch's grass-fed beef.
"It is a winning situation for everyone," Bailey said.
Plants by Mel is located on County Road 306 across the street from Elk Creek Antiques.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.