by Stacia Burton
What is possible when we come together as a movement, an incubating force strengthening the spokes of the wheel through sharing core values? Let us look particularly at the precedent-setting San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition (LFC), now in its 11th year. The seed of this inception dates back to 2008, when Melissa Emminger returned from Philadelphia where she attended a LiveWell Scholarship forum on Community Food Security. Upon returning to the valley, her presentation drew a record number of attendees who formed the basis of this local food coalition. The movement is roaring like spring melt down a mountain creek.
The mission of LFC is to “Foster an equitable local food system that restores the health of the people, community, economy and ecosystem.”
“Though we’re a mission-based organization, it has to be viable,” emphasizes Liza Marron, the founding director of the LFC.
As Nick Chambers, General Manager of the Valley Roots Food Hub (VRFH) is known to say: “We vote 3 times a day for the food system we want.” In other words, money can buy happiness in the sense of interconnection with the food we eat and the people who grow it. Nick & his wife Alycia also run a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network in Crestone.
“We are reclaiming our relationships with the foods we eat, recreating our own local food systems here in the valley—where we can see the face of the farmer in the foods on our plate.” Excitedly, Liza Marron conveys the thread of how the coalition evolved initially from a group formed for the prevention of teen substance abuse by the SLV Prevention Coalition. Apparently, the group brainstormed using a rather effective visual arts method allowing people to feel heard ~ ingenious. Thus inspired, the collective began to chart their creativity towards long-term goals as well as root-causes of addiction, finding good nutrition to be of standard importance.
In Liza’s words: Organized in 2009, the LFC began as a grassroots gathering of agricultural producers, school food service directors, the local food bank, community garden staff, nutrition educators, nonprofits and interested residents from around the San Luis Valley. Until 2016 the coalition met monthly with as many as 30-40 people participating in discussions to create a more vibrant local food system. In 2011 the LFC formed its first board and applied to become a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. In 2012 it transitioned from being under the umbrella of Valley-Wide Health Systems, Inc. to its own separate organization. The LFC now has five full time positions and a VISTA volunteer and a Mennonite volunteer.
The LFC takes a multipronged approach to achieving its mission including: incubating new farmers and providing access to land, providing an aggregation and distribution service for family farms, promoting local producers through the third edition of the Local Roots farm guide soon to be in print; offering cooking, nutrition, and food preservation courses and workshops; engaging in farm-to-school efforts.
The Valley Roots Food Hub launch in June of 2015 was met with enthusiasm and wide-spread participation by local farmers and ranchers and resulted in wider access to local markets. The LFC was also successful in its effort to acquire 38.2 acres of prime agricultural land on the Rio Grande Corridor for agricultural education and new farmer incubation with five incubators on the land in 2016.
The SLVLFC is the umbrella organization for the Rio Grande Farm Park (RGFP) and Valley Roots Food Hub (VRFH). LFC acquired title to the RGFP land in 2016. This innovative multi-use park preserves the SLV’s important agricultural heritage, precious water resources, and open public spaces, simultaneously creating economic development, healthy living, and educational and recreational opportunities for community members. A key project component is RGFP’s focus on its working farm that provides education and opportunities for aspiring farmers to access land and learn to grow food for market. The VRFH aggregation and distribution hub was launched in June of 2015 and serves as a local market for small and midsize farms in the SLV including incubated farmers on the RGFP.
Liza Marron is the founding director of the LFC. She is an experienced community organizer with a focus on social justice, wellness and prevention with extensive project development and management expertise. The RGFP director, Julie Mordecai has been a nonprofit consultant for 6 years, has extensive ED experience and has ensured the success of many initiatives throughout her career. Nick Chambers is VRFH GM and has extensive sales and produce experience. He runs a small family farm in Crestone, and is an accomplished educator on biofuels and biomass.
The LFC participates in the Double Up SNAP Colorado launch at three SLV sites thanks to a generous match from 1st SouthWest Bank and partnering in a Veteran to Farmer project with the Women Veterans, the Veterans Coalition of the SLV, Conejos Clean Water, the Food Bank Network of the SLV and Community Partnerships at Adams State University.
So, there you have it. We glimpse here evidence of the spin-off effect, if not the butterfly effect itself. Please refer to slvlocalfoods.org for additional information, links, class schedules and general information likely to inspire hope for the future.