From a Snowmass farm to Garfield County seniors’ tables
Farm Collaborative partnership provides CSA shares to downvalley seniors
For the Garfield County seniors who receive fresh produce from Snowmass Village’s Farm Collaborative each summer, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box partnership between the farm and the county can be a lifeline.
“I was down in Rifle and one person stayed after I’d (finished) handing out meals in the parking lot, and then she came over to me and said, ‘You know, I — listen, that kept me alive during the summers. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that,” said Judy Martin, manager of senior programs in the Garfield County Henior Services department.
This year, the Farm Collaborative will supply all 30 CSA shares for the Garfield County program with the first distribution going out Wednesday, according to Ben Armstrong, the production and soil manager at the nonprofit. (In the past, the farm provided 15 of the shares, with the other half coming from farms downvalley.)
The produce is so beloved by its beneficiaries that when funding for the CSA shares was in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, some seniors offered to contribute their stimulus checks to keep it going, according to Martin and Armstrong.
Those seniors who offered to fund the program last year ultimately got to keep their stimulus checks after all thanks to other sources of funding.
“I got to call them up — because both of them live in senior housing and are on very fixed incomes — I got to call them up and say, ‘I’m so thankful that you were willing to do this, but I’m going to tell you, use that money for what you need. I’ll get another source,’” Martin said. “I don’t get to do that very often so that was a really lovely treat that our funders gave to me.”
Connie Castine was one of those seniors; the 70-year-old retired software engineer saw offering her $1,400 check as a way to give back to the community that supported her when she first moved into senior housing.
“I guess you could say it’s kind of like paying it forward,” Castine said.
The CSA program has helped her reduce her grocery bill and indulge in ingredients like fresh squash that might otherwise be too expensive to cook with all the time; it also was a helpful resource during pandemic lockdowns last year, when seniors especially were encouraged to stay home.
“It kept me going last year, because during the pandemic of course we couldn’t go out as much,” Castine said.
The program is a way for the Farm Collaborative to give back, too, Armstrong said. The nonprofit agricultural hub benefits from receiving some capital to invest at the beginning of the year from the shares, which was all the more valuable last year when the pandemic hit and growers grew uncertain of supply and demand.
“I think last year, during the spring, a lot of farmers were questioning whether we should be growing more produce or growing less produce, and that kind of disrupted all the markets, and having this really stabilized where our produce was going to go,” Armstrong said.
In return, the Farm Collaborative gets to provide its products to people for whom fresh fruit and veggies might otherwise be out of reach. Outdoor distribution last year helped seniors cut down on trips to the grocery store and allowed them to get fresh produce weekly rather than stocking up on frozen products to reduce outings, Armstrong said, and the program ensures that access isn’t prevented by barriers of cost, either.
“A lot of farmers in the valley see a lot of our produce go to wealthier markets to people who can afford to pay for it, and being able to participate in a program where we’re consistently giving food to seniors is a really great way to interact with people who wouldn’t normally get our produce,” Armstrong said.
The CSA program with the Farm Collaborative also can bring back memories for the beneficiaries of the program (and for organizers), Armstrong and Martin said.
And when Armstrong began adding the occasional canned and jarred versions of beets, turnips, jams and other goods to the haul last summer, it inspired some seniors to do the same, according to Martin.
“Our seniors just love it because it reminds them of what they used to do,” Martin said. “I got more people involved with actually eating and canning again because of (Arnstrong) and the program, because they had forgotten how much fun it was.”
Flavors from the farm have the same throwback effect, Martin and Armstrong both noted, with rutabagas in particular having quite the staying power for those who ate the root vegetables when they were younger.
“We all have memories, and food memories are one of those really key things for seniors, because it brings them back to other times, other connections, memories of their parents, grandparents,” Martin said. “And as the older I get, there are those memories that I have that are just, they warm my heart. … It’s just lovely stories that you get to hear.”
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.