Grants help local farmers harvest for food aid programs
Having fresh, local produce and foods available at the farmers market and on local restaurant menus is wonderful for the community, but not all local consumers can afford these options.
Grant-funded connections that connect local farmers with nonprofit food assistance programs are increasingly beneficial in Routt County, both for those who benefit from healthy options and for farmers and pastoralists who plant crops and manage herds.
“We are really excited to be working with these programs which will put our products in the hands of a wider range of people,” said Sydney Ellbogen, co-owner of Mountain Bluebird Farm, located west of Hayden.
The grant funding partners producers such as Mountain Bluebird and Bee Grateful Farm south of Steamboat Springs with LiftUp of Routt County, Routt County Council on Aging and, new this summer, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. Northwest Colorado Health, which operates WIC, received funding from the nonprofit Nourish Colorado to buy fresh food from farmers this summer. Customers can pick up their products at the Steamboat Springs WIC Clinic on Central Park Drive.
Nourish Colorado executive director Wendy Peters Moschetti said the grant program provides a variety of ancillary benefits, from keeping local food money to supporting local agriculture and preserving open agricultural spaces. .
“It contributes to the health and vitality of your community,” Moschetti said. “Knowing where your food comes from tends to be much more conducive to lifelong nutritious eating habits. If it comes from ‘down the street’, it tends to be fresher, tastier and better quality. Everyone deserves fresh, high-quality food.”
April Sigman, executive director of the Routt County Council on Aging, said various grants, such as those from Nourish Colorado, have increased the nonprofit’s annual nutrition budget by 10% and increased purchasing. of fresh foods, including local meats and eggs purchased year-round. through the Community Agricultural Alliance market.
Many Routt County seniors grew up eating local foods, Sigman said, so they’re happy with farm-fresh options, from pork chops to fresh salads. Locally grown foods are used to prepare the senior center’s weekly lunches, used in meals-on-wheels lunches, and are sometimes available for seniors to take home during bountiful harvests.
“It’s an incredible community connection that growers benefit from and our customers benefit from,” said Sigman. “The elders know his local. The quality is amazing. I certainly get comments that they eat a lot more vegetables.
The Community Agriculture Alliance has negotiated links between producers and agencies for several years, largely through the purchase of community-supported agriculture shares, said Michele Meyer, executive director of the CAA. Sugar Creek Farm in Steamboat, Elkstone Farm in the Strawberry Park area and other local growers have participated in recent years, Meyer said.
“It’s a huge economic benefit and a planning benefit for the farmer to grow the produce,” Meyer said.
Since late 2020, CAA has helped with local food purchases of about $10,000 for LiftUp and nearly $12,500 for the Council on Aging, Meyer said.
Farmer Ellbogen said guaranteed sales are helpful so growers don’t have to spend time looking for other outlets. She said the CSA format is also less labor intensive than running stalls at farmers’ markets.
“Our produce, when distributed locally, means it’s picked one day or five days at the most,” Ellbogen said. “When you take things out of a grocery store, they can be much older than ours and they lose nutrients as they age.”
Joe Frankovitch, farm manager at Bee Grateful, said it was cool to know he was providing local food to people who wouldn’t normally have access to it. He added that locally distributed food has a lower carbon footprint for transportation. Bee Grateful Farm, which operates organically, supplies lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, root vegetables, squash and cabbage to the Routt County Council on Aging.
CAA may have the opportunity to expand food matching in the future by applying for funds through the new Buy Local Food Assistance Cooperative Agreement program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Social Services which was announced in mid-April.
The connection between growers, grants, and nonprofits has also been facilitated by the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition, which meets quarterly sponsored by the Routt County CSU Extension Office.
The Food Coalition’s next virtual meeting will focus on food security gaps in Northwest Colorado. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 9 at 12:30 p.m. and those interested can contact Libby.Christensen@colostate.edu.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.