Bridget Ryder
Teton Valley News

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all invention. For Casey Eason, a collision of economic and natural need, and his own sense of vision, gave birth to a new business that makes life in Teton Valley live more sustainable.

Just in time for the 2008 economic downturn, Casey Eason took a job as sales manager for Grand Valley Log and Lumber, in Driggs, ID. Six months later, building around the country practically at a stand still, he found himself general manager for the company, which hoped to start a high-end log cabin home company. Three years later, the investors pulled out and left Eason without a job.

Enter necessity.

Eason realized that log cabins were “losing fashion” and he needed to reinvent the
business. He also recognized that life as America knew it was changing—people had to live with smaller budgets and an interest in gardening was growing. He saw young families in Teton Valley wanting to grow their own food and teach their children where food comes from, too.

But gardening in a climate with snow on the ground six months out of the year, strong winds, intense ultraviolet rays, and sudden hailstorms necessitate a protective structure equipped to handle tough weather. Eaton had seen the failure of most greenhouses used in the valley, many aluminum structures “shredded in a wind storm” after only a year or two. Gardening and sustainability needed a little help.

Enter invention.

Eason’s brain storm resulted in Grow Huts—greenhouse-like structures suited for
growing fruits and vegetables in adverse conditions.

Eason combined twin wall polycarbonate and rough-sawn dead standing wood into a
green house strong enough to withstand wind, hail, and snow load. The polycarbonate insulates from both the sudden cold spells of spring and summer that freeze plants to death and the high level ultra-violet rays of the valley’s altitude that burn and shrivel leaves. Even on a wet, cloudy, 40-degree day, the inside of the grow hut is already more comfortable than outside.

“If we would have had the sun peak through even for a few minutes, this would really have really heated up,” Eason said.

The grow huts not only act as instruments to a sustainable lifestyle, but are also
sustainable in themselves. Because Eason uses dead standing wood, no trees die to make the huts. Neither will the polycarbonate end up in the dumpster next winter. According to Eason, it is designed to last least ten years. Eason builds his grow huts to function as permanent structures that increase the productivity of the land where they are placed.

He estimates that a standard 9-foot by 10-foot grow hut has enough room to produce
fruits and vegetables to feed a small family. The space can be triple layered for greater productivity with beds on the ground level, beds built into waist-high bins and hanging planters coming from the ceiling. With a few upgrades, such as thicker polycarbonate siding or wood paneling along the bottom, and a little heating, gardeners can exercise their green thumb year round, Eason says.

Aesthetically, Eason took his inspiration from the old farm outbuildings scattered
throughout the valley. The rough sawn-wood frame authenticates the barn, cabin, or shed shape of the grow huts. The details such as Dutch doors and triangle-tipped gambrel rooks on the barn roof add functionality and style.

“I wanted in some way to mirror local architecture,” he said.

In fact Hal and Iola Blake, owners of the iconic guest ranch, Molten Ranch, near Teton National Park, not only purchased one of Eaton’s first grow huts for their home in Idaho Falls, but are also awaiting the delivery of anther Eason invention to replace a 100-year old barn on their ranch.

However, local isn’t in the architecture alone, Eason keeps almost all aspects of his business—from where the wood comes from to his clientele within a 250 mile radius. His crew of three hand-builds all the grow huts at the mill on the edge of Driggs. He sticks with structures that he can both build and deliver with his work crew. Mail order kits sent all over the country are out of the question for Eason. The raw logs, tree trunks bear of branches, are delivered to the mill from Montana where Corey, Mike, and Dalton cut, saw, and sand them into grow huts and then deliver them to the customer’s door step.

And not only is it local but also creative He has his standard model, but he gets a little smile in his eyes when he shows off his built-to-suit creations and his up-and-coming chicken coops. First, there is the half chicken coop, half grow hut eggplant. For the Blakes he worked out a hybrid grow hut and storage barn. The third of the building with polycarbonate siding will be a home for the plants an flowers Iola brings over to the Teton ranch from Idaho so that “they can flourish a bit more before we put them out,” Hal Blake said. The rest of the barn-like structure will store equipment.

Eason’s building crew is also putting the finishing touches on the first chicken coop. A custom coop for Driggs resident, Patricia Karnick, the coop is a kind of all-in-one, gated community for chickens. After years of envying the “sustainable paradise[s]” of neighbors, she decided to start raising chickens on her five-acre lot. She knew what she wanted in a coop to—something insulated, portable, and self-contained. After looking all over the Internet, she took her request to Eason who accepted the challenge of building her dream chicken coop.

Eason thought and planned and brought his sketches to his master builder Corey
Raymond. The end product? An insulated slanted roof structure, built on wheels, with a variety of little doors and windows for easy feeding and egg-gathering. Eason even designed an extra shelf to keep the birds’ water free from their own feces. It also has drop-down fencing along the bottom to let the chicks strut around without being loose in Karnick’s yard.

The hybrid grow huts are the result of a risky winter for Eason. Certain that he had found his niche, Eason “went in for broke” and kept his crew working in the cold months, hoping that spring would see more sales. His hopes have not been disappointed. He now faces the opposite problem—barely being able to meet the demand for his grow huts.

However, though necessity had a hand in starting Eason’s new company and sales make it sustainable, Eaton also has a philosophy behind his work. The father of two will be working with his own daughters this spring in the family grow huts equipped for chickens, rabbits, and gardening. Eason wants them to know where their food comes from and “make the connection that food is something that takes time to cultivate.”

He does have one more grow hut creation in mind, though. “A structure under 200 feet where my daughter can have a green house, chicken coup, bunnies, and a milk goat all-in-one,” he describes the ultimate grow hut. Just another way Casey Eason hopes to turn necessity and invention into sustainability.