A new state grant was distributed last week that aims to put healthier food in Colorado’s food banks and pantries, which, in turn, has the potential to bolster local farmers and growers.
In 2018, the Colorado Legislature passed a new grant, called the Food Pantry Assistance Grant, which directs about $500,000 in funding for food banks and pantries, 90 percent of which has to be spent on Colorado Proud products, a brand that signifies produce grown in the state.
Rachel Landis, director of the Good Food Collective, said the grant’s benefits are twofold: it makes more fresher, healthier food available to underserved populations, and it provides a new revenue stream to support local growers.
In Colorado, one in six people are food insecure, meaning people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, Landis said. In La Plata County, one in eight people are food insecure, including one in four children.
Lack of access to food is, of course, linked to health and developmental challenges, especially for children. And historically, food that comes into food banks or pantries is canned and doesn’t pack the same nutritional punch as fresh produce, Landis said.
Recognizing both the need to get healthier food to underserved populations and seeing an opportunity to better support agriculture in the state, Landis said the Colorado Legislature passed the new grant. Across the state, $1.6 million was requested by food banks and pantries.
In Southwest Colorado, about $88,000 was requested, but because of the high demand statewide, only $22,000 was awarded, spread out through Manna soup kitchen, the Durango Food Bank, the Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, the Good Samaritan Food Bank and Aspen Springs Food Pantry in Pagosa Springs.
Ann Morse, executive director of Manna soup kitchen, said it has always been a goal of Manna to provide people with nourishing meals. In this vein, the soup kitchen has its own garden and, in the past, has been the recipient of food donated by the Durango Farmers Market.
“But one of the big challenges, and what makes this grant amazing, is that our local farmers need to make a living,” Morse said. “When you’re a struggling farmer, it’s hard to just keep giving and not get something back. There has to be that give and take.”
Max Kirks, owner and farmer with High Pine Produce, based in Hesperus, said the new grant has the potential to be a significant new market for local growers. And in Southwest Colorado, with a relatively increasing number of agriculture operations, and stagnant amount of outlets to sell, that means a lot.
But, more than money, Kirks said the grant allows local growers to get healthy food to the people who need it most, and can’t afford it.
“It’s a conundrum,” Kirks said. “As a local producer needing to meet profit margins, we’re stuck with selling to people with a fair amount of income at farmers markets and to nice restaurants. (This grant) assists in the vision of getting people food who need it, at a fair price.”
Landis and the Good Food Collective hope to serve as the conduit between food banks and local growers.
Ciara Low, co-founder and director of UpRoot Colorado’s Western Slope operations, is trying to make that same connection in the Eagle River Valley. She said the biggest problem in the past has been that food banks haven’t had the funds to buy from local growers.
This grant changes that, she said.
“If we’re always asking for donations, we’re not ensuring farmers will always be around to provide those donations,” Low said. “This sort of policy not only addresses the root causes of hunger ... but it also keeps money in the local community, which supports economic development.”
Landis said the new grant is in its first year, so there is plenty of potential and room to grow.
“These are some pilot funds,” she said. “But we have a bigger end goal.”
Calls to Hunger Free Colorado, which helped establish the grant, were not returned Tuesday.