Monday, February 26

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Who We Are: Eden Elderberry: Embraced by community

By Gussie Fauntleroy

The event took no more than a few, horrifying seconds to unfold, but it changed everything in Eden Elderberry and her partner Leah Garcia’s life. It led them to seriously reconsider their priorities, and eventually brought them to Crestone.

It happened on a moonless night near the small Ohio city where Eden grew up and where she and Leah, young adults at the time, were living. Eden was driving a 4-wheeler and Leah was on the seat behind her when they suddenly emerged from a wooded track into the brightness of a streetlight where the track met a road. Eden braked, turned too quickly, and the 4-wheeler flipped over.

Eden’s left hand was almost completely ripped off and her other hand broken. Leah suffered a broken facial bone. They were airlifted to a hospital, where a team of surgeons reattached Eden’s hand. While she was in the hospital, her mother cared for her three young children. Gradually she relearned to use the hand, which today is once again fully functional.

But she lost her job at a factory making oil filters and even after recovering, she couldn’t find another job. “It reordered our priorities,” she said, sitting in the Casita Park home she shares with her kids and Leah, where a wide east-facing window in the living room offers a striking view of the Sangre de Cristo peaks. “When we thought about all the things we wanted to do, we said: We should do it, now.”

Seeking a good fit

The things Eden and Leah wanted to do—start an art co-op, grow a food forest, volunteer to help others in the community— are perfectly aligned with the values and culture of Crestone, but ultimately were not a good fit for their conservative Ohio town. Nor was Eden’s “little bit of a rebel” character, which saw her skipping catechism as a child (a choice her parents supported), and later led to political activism and community organizing.

As a teen, Eden bonded with her father while helping him work on motorcycle engines and thought for a time she would become a motorcycle mechanic. But art and other interests caught her attention. 

After earning an associate degree in fine art, she briefly attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, but as the daughter of two factory workers, she felt socially out of place. She transferred to Indiana University, changed majors several times, and eventually left school after becoming intensely involved in real life issues that felt more important.

She volunteered with Obama for America (OFA), which after his presidential election became Organizing for America. Among the group’s key efforts was the successful 2010 repeal of an Ohio state law that would have severely suppressed voter rights. She also worked to support unions and other social justice causes. She and Leah met in 2015 while both were working at the same factory.

After the 4-wheeler accident, the couple determined to focus on their shared dreams. They founded the Darke County Makers Co-op, which offered art classes, including for children, and provided art sale and studio spaces. Both Eden and Leah made and taught art. They started Pagans of Darke County to share enjoyment of life and the exploration of spiritual paths with others of like mind. They established a food forest.

But they were attempting to swim against a strong sociocultural tide. The town tried to take away the food forest; the United Way balked at supporting the art co-op; the church food pantry where they wanted to volunteer refused any volunteers who weren’t members of the church. So in 2021, when a friend invited Eden and Leah to join a communal living situation in Del Norte, they visited the San Luis Valley for the first time and decided to move here.

The right place

As it turned out, the communal situation was not as the friend had portrayed. “It didn’t work out, but we were already in love with Crestone,” Eden said. She was hired by the Northern Saguache County Library District, where she continues to serve as program manager and “technology guru.” She and Leah initially intended to purchase property in Casita Park and build a home, but POA requirements stymied that process. 

With generous help from a fundraising event organized by Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Nick Nevares, the couple sold the lots they’d bought and purchased property with an existing mobile home. 

“People were amazing. Nick told us, ‘We’re keeping you!’ The community made sure we got this place,” Eden said. Now she and Leah are devoting themselves to being part of the community and giving back just as generously—which is what they’ve wanted to do all along.

Among Eden’s areas of involvement: She serves on the Charter School governing council, was elected to the Moffat School District School Board (although it was determined the current district boundaries invalidated her election), and both she and Leah frequently volunteer with the schools. Her two older kids, Miles and Veda, attend the Charter School, while her younger son Thomas lives with his father in Ohio. 

Eden also serves on the board of Alpine Achievers, which works with youth and AmeriCorps in the Valley. She runs the kitchen at the annual Crestone Energy Fair. And she is active in Friends of Casita Park, a soon-to-be-nonprofit organization aimed at making Casita Park a better place to live.

At their home, Eden and Leah have plans for building a greenhouse and permaculture food forest, part of their commitment to “making food happen, making herbal remedies, making a bird garden and bees happen,” as she put it. Leah also drives a truck delivering free fresh food to various Valley communities, thanks to a grant obtained by the Saguache County Food Access Coalition.

In another reciprocal turn, Eden recently was honored by the community by being named Grand Marshal for Crestone’s July 4 parade. “There are a lot of things I love about this place,” she said, “but I just keep learning more and more. I like building more connections and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, seeing how much of my ego I can strip away.”

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