STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Food producers and food buyers had the chance to network Friday and Saturday at the fifth annual Homegrown Food Retreat at Fort Lewis College’s Student Union.
Producers from La Plata and Montezuma counties as well as from New Mexico attended various workshops and other events with Durango-area food buyers and “eaters,” said Katy Pepinsky, director of Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado, the event’s organizer.
Growing Partners is an alliance of agencies and people working together to support a fair, sustainable local food system that reaches all incomes, ages and cultures, according to its website.
Participants included “diverse meat and vegetable producers,” as well as local restaurants and even people who “are passionate about where their food comes from,” Pepinsky said.
She said Growing Partners received a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service to connect farmers with local buyers. Those buyers can include restaurants, grocery stores and others.
Keynote speaker for both days was Steve Warshawer, a farmer and enterprise development coordinator for the La Montańita Cooperative Distribution Center in Albuquerque. La Montańita is similar to Durango Natural Foods Coop, with five retail locations.
Warshawer, who also owns Beneficial Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) near Santa Fe, on Saturday discussed barriers to extending the reach of local food and led a panel discussion about local food distribution. Other panelists included Jama Crawford of Shared Harvest, Sara Wakefield of Manna Soup Kitchen, Linley Dixon of Adobe House Farm and CSA, Joshua Jackson of Durango Natural Foods and Evert Oldham of USDA Rural Development. Jim Dyer of Healthy Community Food Systems was the panel’s facilitator.
Late morning and afternoon breakout sessions were divided into those for “eaters” and those for producers and buyers.
Among the “eaters” meetings was one led by Dyer, and Kelsey Reeder also told attendees about “Eating Local and Sustainable Year-Round.”
The FLC Environmental Center Food Team then offered a workshop titled “How to Become a Local Food Advocate and throw a Rocking Dinner Party in One Fell Swoop.”
After the catered lunch, Minna Jain explained how to get into backyard beekeeping, and Frank LeBeau of The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado discussed improving growing soil.
Meanwhile, producers and buyers Saturday had the chance to attend a session on the farmer-chef connection, presented by Growing Partners, as well as a food-safety session with Beth LaShell of Old Fort at Hesperus.
A final producer-buyer session looked at how the Mesa Verde Guide could support local distribution, led by Dyer and Jenny Wren of Healthy Community Food Systems.
Additional information is available from Growing Partner’s website at www.growingpartners.org.