About 500 residents in eastern La Plata County have made a commitment to ensure 10 percent of their food comes from local sources.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge, but it’s not intimidating,” said Kami Larson, a Bayfield resident.
Residents from Vallecito to Sambrito, New Mexico, pledged to raise, buy or trade for 10 percent of their food, including meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, said Pam Willhoite, coordinator of Pine River Shares, a nonprofit.
Residents signed the pledges as part of a larger effort called Field to Fork organized by Pine River Shares. The goal of Field to Fork is to encourage more local food production, bolster the agricultural economy and encourage neighbors to share food among themselves.
Pine River Shares is focused on improving the health of residents. It identified lack of access to affordable, healthy food as a primary barrier to good health about five years ago. Field to Fork is an effort to build food systems that are largely independent in eastern La Plata County that expand access to fresh healthy produce, protein and dairy.
Many residents are open to the 10 percent goal, and some gardeners and livestock producers are already meeting the goal, said Larson, a Pine River Shares volunteer.
The goal also started a conversation among residents about how they measure 10 percent of their food consumption, whether it is through dollars, calories or how often residents purchase local food. The group accepts different people will achieve the goal in different ways.
“Ten percent can be interpreted very loosely. ... The main thing is it got people thinking about food,” said Jim Fitzgerald, a volunteer with Pine River Shares.
In Larson’s case, it helped her think about how she could go above and beyond the 10 percent, she said.
She was already an avid gardener and purchased her eggs and milk locally, but through Field to Fork, she found local bread, chicken, salad greens, apples and pears.
Pine River Shares aims to sign up 10 percent of the population of the Pine River Valley, or 1,400 residents, to hit the goal in the next three years, she said.
It is possible 1,400 residents are already hitting the goal, and the nonprofit just needs to identify them, she said.
Once those residents are identified, the group can connect producers with their neighbors who are interested in buying or bartering with them to help foster the consumption of local food, she said.
As more residents consume local food, Larson expects to see economic benefits for families and producers. Families could spend less on groceries by reducing the amount they spend on gas to drive into Durango to go shopping and increase the amount of money farmers can make.
To help develop plans for a food system this year, Pine River Shares held 11 meetings in Bayfield, Arboles, Vallecito, Allison, Forest Lakes and Ignacio, said Tiana Lemley, the 10 percent campaign coordinator.
The plan outlines a vision for food production, processing, distribution, marketing, composting, cooking education, gleaning teams and new outlets for sales, according to vision boards developed by the nonprofit.
The plan also named concrete steps the group will take, such as establishing commercial kitchens, founding an Ignacio farmers market and setting up food-gleaning teams.
The meetings helped bring together residents and helped foster food sharing, Lemley said.
“People are trading carrots for eggs or compost tea for acorn squash or garlic for strawberry jam. It’s been heartwarming to see the ‘wealth’ in those personal connections,” she said.
Some of the groups that came together to develop the food system continue to meet on their own, she said.
For example, one of the largest and most active groups meets at the Mt. Allison Grange and draws residents from Arboles and Sambrito, a small New Mexico community.
Vivian Hansen, a Mt. Allison Grange member, started a garden with about nine kids from her neighborhood who were already coming to her house for snacks.
Her policy with the children who visit her home is, “I don’t have any money, but I’ll always feed you,” she said.
She hopes it will keep them out of trouble in the small subdivision that doesn’t offer much entertainment for children.
“There is nothing like working in the dirt,” she said.
The group raised tomatoes, broccoli, corn, kale, zucchini and beans, said Connor Seagrave, 10. His favorite crops were purple beans and tomatoes.
The Sambrito garden is a classic example of what Field to Fork is trying to nurture, because residents of the neighborhood founded a garden that made sense for their community, Willhoite said.
In the short term, Pine River Shares volunteers plan to compile a directory of producers and consumers across the valley to encourage commerce. Those interested in a directory listing can email Pam Willhoite at email@example.com.