Caleb Garrett loves farming, but is not going to rely on it for his future career, but is not ruling it out completely. The 17-year-old senior at Kanab High School plans on studying business and finance at Utah State University. He will be helped financially now by a $500 scholarship he won on Monday in an Amazing Earthfest essay contest. He drew on personal experience gained from working the land to win the top prize.

The competition was sponsored as part of this year’s Amazing Earthfest, which runs May 13-19 in and around Kanab. The contest was for students to write about locally-grown food in urban settings, resulting in contributions to communities’ self-reliance. Their essays were written on their impressions of a documentary titled, “Growing Cities,” that chronicled the travels of two men discovering how people raise food in urban settings.

Other high school seniors who entered the competition included scholarship winners Ashden Wallace,18, whose essay titled, “How Earth Gives Life,” won a $300 scholarship to Dixie State University, where he plans to study psychology and acting; and Tavin Ott, 17, who won a $200 scholarship that he plans to use to study biology at Weber State University.

First honorable mention was given to William King, 18, (who participated via video), with honorable mention also awarded to Becky Lou, 18, who plans to study radiation therapy at Southern Utah University.

When giving a synopsis of their impressions to four judges, about 20 spectators, and many fellow students, Garrett said along with three generations of family members – from himself through great-grandmother – they grow vegetables on six plots in the Ranchos in Kanab. He said homegrown food is infinitely more healthy for people, and can reduce a family’s carbon footprint by 47 percent. It does not necessarily matter where a home garden is established, citing an example in the video they saw of a rooftop garden in Manhattan.

Wallace reflected in his essay on the miraculous ability of the earth’s soil to sprout and nurture the food we all depend on for the energy of life. He cited research that emphasized how working in a garden can have therapeutic value for the mentally ill and even addicts. We should look at the earth with a fresh perspective and see how it can be responsible for a broader understanding of life.

Ott wrote about the advantages of eating organic vegetables to maintain a healthy body. The athlete said he believes homegrown food not only makes him feel and perform better, it keeps him from consuming his grandfather’s diet, whom he implied has a hankering for less healthy processed and fast foods many of us possess.

Luo moved to Kanab with her family from China a decade ago. She said the first thing they did was tear out the grass in their backyard and plant their own garden with vegetables more conducive in variety and freshness to what they were accustomed to in their native country.

William King said organic gardens are essential to not only a healthy life, but could be less expensive for groups responsible for caring for society’s homeless or needy, many of whom are forced to eat either processed or fast foods.

When asked about the use of genetically modified organisms to customized foods through sciences, it was not given positive reviews by most essay writers except for Garrett. Because he comes from a farming family that grew corn in Oklahoma, he can see the advantages of gmo science for financial reasons.

He said it’s hard enough having a profitable harvest every year because of many adverse variables, so any tool that could benefit their chances would have a strong attraction. Even if that tool was on the genetic level. But, he also conceded he can see how many would believe nothing good or natural can come from such tinkering and have only adversarial effects on people.

Kanab resident Connie Ball, who attended the essay ceremony held in the music room of Kanab High, said she and a loose knit group of area residents are supportive of young people advocating home gardening. Not only for the health benefits, but for the spirit of self-reliance such activity engenders in the community. She said that if there was a catastrophic accident to the power grid or transportation corridors, isolating Kanab from services and resources the community depends on, “we’d be in a world of hurt.”

“We should be taking steps for any eventuality,” she said. “I see more veggies and solar as a starting point.”

The essay contest was judged by community members Christiane Turner, Lara Clayson, Debra Csenge and Rich Csenge, who has organized the Amazing Earthfest for the past 12 years.

Csenge said the contest and scholarships were made possible by several area sponsors including Amazing Earthfest, Joe Andrade, ERA Utah Properties, Sego Restaurant, Wild Thyme Cafe, and Kane County Water Conservancy District.