Guest column: Sustainable food production is growing locally | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Sustainable food production is growing locally

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest column

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

For me and other avid gardeners, the splendor of summer is heightened by the opportunity to get our hands dirty, make things grow and enjoy the resulting bounty of fruits, vegetables and herbs. The same is true for increasing numbers of people as community gardens multiply and locals experience the rewards of growing their own food. Even those who don't spend time in the garden are becoming more informed consumers of food, seeking meat and produce from close-by sources.

Nearly every town from Aspen to Parachute has a weekly farmers market during summer, and these markets showcase both the abundance of food produced on Western Slope farms and the growing regional appetite for fresh, high-quality, local produce.

The social and environmental benefits arising from regional farms and gardens are numerous and powerful — from the nutritional and ecological advantages of locally produced food to the educational value of connecting kids to the natural world and instilling in them an awareness of where food comes from. What child doesn't find it satisfying to harvest and eat fresh lettuce, tomatoes or potatoes that they nurtured and watered in their own backyard, school or community-garden plot?

Numerous local organizations are doing fine work under the broad umbrella of gardening, sustainable food production and healthy eating. Organizations such as Aspen T.R.E.E. at the Cozy Point Ranch, Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt, Rock Bottom Ranch near El Jebel and Carbondale's Sustainable Settings are all growing food sustainably and using their locations to engage and educate the public. Anything from greenhouse design to edible landscaping to beekeeping might be covered at the next workshop, and every day's activities serve as a demonstration in high-altitude agriculture.

Other organizations such as Fat City Farmers are bringing sustainable food production into local schools with the aim of growing the next generation of organic farmers. Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Roaring Fork High School, both in Carbondale, have thriving school-based garden programs, and many more such programs are emerging. When students produce healthy food, they not only begin to change the paradigm in the school cafeteria but also foster more food awareness among their peers — an initial step toward a healthier generation of kids.

Don't assume that this movement is restricted to elite "foodies." Some local farmers markets now accept dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for what used to be referred to as food stamps. In Glenwood Springs and Rifle, the farmers markets even offer double value for those dollars, which makes fresh, local produce within reach for more local consumers. And some groups are focused specifically on getting surplus local produce to the hungry.

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LiveWell Garfield County plays an important role in keeping many of these efforts moving forward, as does Aspen Skiing Co.'s Environment Foundation, which the Aspen Community Foundation partners with to match employee contributions up to $50,000 annually. Over the years, the Aspen Community Foundation's donor-advised fund holders also have granted more than $400,000 to local sustainable agriculture, hands-on gardening programs and education.

Our cool and rainy spring has led to an outstanding growing season now. In the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys, sustainable food production and marketing is not just a fad or fashion. It's a movement with broad and increasingly deeper reach.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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