“Farm-to-Fridge” giveaway provides food to people who need it — and gives funds to farmers, too | AspenTimes.com

“Farm-to-Fridge” giveaway provides food to people who need it — and gives funds to farmers, too

Farm Collaborative’s annual event takes place Wednesday

Farm Collaborative’s Cooper Means loads vegetables from Harper Kaufman at Two Roots Farm in Emma on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. The Farm Collaborative will be distributing vegetable shares to food insecure families and food pantries, while also supporting local farmers by buying excess produce. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

For Farm Collaborative agricultural manager Cooper Means, the day he spends purchasing thousands of pounds of produce from local farmers for the nonprofit’s annual Farm-to-Fridge food giveaway is “one of the most fun days of my job,” he said. It can feel a little bit like showing at their door with an oversized lottery check in hand.

“Farmers are, for the most part, pretty burnt out, or they’re ready for winter and ready to be done and go on vacation and kind of call it,” said Means, who coordinates on-the-ground food logistics for Farm-to-Fridge. “What makes this event so much fun for me is the farmers are so excited to get rid of a couple thousand pounds of food, or a thousand pounds of food.”

The grand total for this year is nearly 3,800 pounds of storage crops like potatoes, carrots, turnips and squash, enough to feed between 1,200 and 1,600 people. The Farm Collaborative spends about $40 per farm share (each feeding four or five people), but all of the food is distributed for free to the community Wednesday afternoon at the FarmPark, located on site at Cozy Point Ranch near Snowmass Village. Greens, canned goods, lamb and eggs will be available for purchase onsite.

Farm-to-Fridge is open to all but requires registration in advance; it’s currently in its third year as a take-home program while the Farm Collaborative’s annual farm-to-table community dinner remains on hold due to the pandemic.

That event historically draws about 1,500 diners to the Hotel Jerome around the Thanksgiving season, according to Farm Collaborative Executive Director Eden Vardy. He hopes to bring the tradition back to its community table roots once it is safe to do so.

“The goal with our event was really to bring the entire community together to celebrate our local bounty and to also honor the farmers in the process,” he added.

There’s another goal: “To get food to people that need it, and people that want it,” said Vardy, who launched the free dinner 14 years ago. Farm-to-table dinners can have a reputation for being exclusive to those with the means to pay for a pricey meal. Not so with this annual event, Vardy said.

It’s always been a focus to get food to people in need through the farm-to-table and farm-to-fridge programs, but over the past two years, the nonprofit has made a concentrated effort to reach food insecure families and individuals through partnerships with local food banks and other community agencies, according to Means.

In 2020, the Farm Collaborative distributed some food shares through food banks. This year, the nonprofit is working with those community contacts to coordinate outreach and ensure people in need know the resource is available.

The registration phone line took calls in English and Spanish, and a few shares from each time slot were set aside for people experiencing food insecurity to ensure that they have access to the bounty, Vardy said. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, there were still a few late-afternoon and early-evening slots available on Eventbrite.

The event is entirely funded by individual contributions that cover about $10,000 in “hard costs” like food supplies and about the same amount in staffing, training, site planning and other soft costs, according to Vardy.

Sign-ups were almost entirely full by the end of the weekend but some additional donations allowed the Farm Collaborative to nearly double the amount of spaces and “open the floodgates” for more registrations, Vardy said.

About 80% of this year’s supply comes from farms in the Roaring Fork Valley: Two Roots Farm in Emma, Rock Bottom Ranch in El Jebel, and Sustainable Settings and Wild Mountain Seeds in Carbondale.

The rest of the food comes from farms elsewhere on the Western Slope: White Mountain Farm in Mosca, Sage Creations in Palisade and Abundant Life Farm in Hotchkiss. Means focuses on supporting farmers who he knows will follow best practices to take care of their crops and their land, both here in the valley and elsewhere in the state.

“I do my best to kind of be equitable, and get as many from as many farmers as possible and pay attention to their practices as well,” Means said. “We’re super fortunate that in the Roaring Fork Valley, pretty much every single farmer is very dedicated to the healthfulness of their food and the land that they grow it on.”

That food and that land is something worth celebrating, Vardy said.

“The most exciting part is just an opportunity to celebrate the bounty of our local region and step into the season of gratitude by having gratitude for that which nourishes us right here and getting to kind of taste and experience our lands just before the snow is covering it,” he said.

To register, visit bit.ly/3kEvMmy.



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