As the nights cool down and it begins to feel a bit like fall, our attention turns to the last vestiges of summer. It is a season to which area farmers and ranchers, and those that support them, are especially attuned.
On the heels of the 2016 La Plata County Fair that celebrates our agricultural heritage, and as the growing season winds down, it is worth mentioning some of the opportunities for the rest of us, who may take our food for granted, to learn hands-on about locally grown food.
The 10th annual Tour de Farms takes place Saturday highlighting what is unique and healthy about our homegrown field and backyard agricultural and gardening communities. A short six-mile in-town family-friendly bicycle tour will visit school and community gardens, a new garden at Manna Soup Kitchen, beehives and chicken coops. The longer 25-mile tour in the county will visit Sunnyside Meats processing, a new composting facility and a few commercial farms and backyard gardens.
This year’s organizer, The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, adopted the event from its founders Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado and the La Plata County Extension Office. The tour is intended to inspire, excite and connect people with local agriculture and what is possible in their own backyard. Designed for fun and the Durango bike, burrito, beer and bluegrass lover, the rides conclude with a celebratory local foods lunch and music at SKA Brewing.
For another part of our community, the “food-insecure” who lack reliable access to healthy, affordable food, the Garden Project, with seed funding from the city of Durango, established, co-manages and works with soup kitchen volunteers on the Manna garden, a free weekly produce stand and, with La Plata Youth Services, runs an at-risk teen garden volunteer project on site.
The Double Up Food Bucks program also came to Colorado this summer enabling the Cortez, Durango and Pagosa Springs farmers markets, and select local retailers, to offer double the amount of fruits and vegetables to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) participants.
With funding from The Colorado Health Foundation, Growing Partners in July launched a 12-month community organizing fellowship to connect and support seven fellows in advancing their local food projects and to find solutions to the root causes of hunger and poverty. Fellows aged 22 to 56 are working in Chromo, Ignacio, Bayfield, Durango and Mancos with local granges, food pantries and food share organizations, among others, to bridge agriculture and supplemental food programs to ensure everyone can eat healthy, nutritious food.
In partnership with Cooking Matters, fellows are being trained in offering farmers market tours. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Durango Farmers Market, they will offer a tour this Saturday. And Sunday, due to the efforts of the Ignacio-based fellows and partners, the Ignacio Farmers Market will start up again at the Education, Literacy, Health and Inspiration Community Center.
Southwest Colorado’s local food system – the path that our food takes from field to fork – is largely shouldered by agricultural producers. But fortunately, there are others interested in seeing a healthy food system thrive. Chefs and restaurateurs, grocers, community organizations, government agencies, funders and, of course, eaters who with the simple act of purchasing locally grown food amplify its benefits – health and nutrition, self-sufficiency, community resiliency, keeping dollars local, supporting family farms and the open lands we love.