Giving Thought: Sowing the seeds of a thriving local-food movement
Eating locally grown food just became easier. You may not feel the impact immediately, but two organizations that support our region’s farmers and help educate the public about the benefits of eating local, organically-grown food have joined forces.
By merging their boards of directors and their operations, the 2Forks Club and The Farm Collaborative have made themselves stronger. The Club, which makes zero-interest loans to farmers and other food entrepreneurs in the Roaring Fork and North Fork (home to Paonia and Hotchkiss) valleys, will now coordinate marketing and fundraising efforts with The Farm Collaborative, which is best known for running the farm-park at the Cozy Point Ranch on Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road.
Susan Brady, founder and board president of 2Forks, says the merger of the two organizations will streamline administration, reduce overall costs and take advantage of operational synergies.
“This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship and we’ll have a lot of projects coming together soon,” she said.
Eden Vardy, currently the executive director of both organizations, says the two entities are already integrated through their common belief in locally grown food and their support for the farms that supply local farmer’s markets, restaurants and food pantries with healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. In its six-year existence, the 2Forks Club has made 22 loans for a total of $450,000, and all but one have been duly paid off. The Farm Collaborative supports the same kinds of people and businesses in other ways, such as loaning farm equipment and providing portable housing for seasonal workers.
“Seventy-five percent of our loan recipients (farmers and food entrepreneurs) have come back and become (2Forks) donors, because they see the benefits, they experience it and they share it,” Vardy said. “It makes the club so much more authentic. We’re making decisions with the players in the room.”
Beyond the direct support for farmers and other members of the local-food industry, The Farm Collaborative also uses its campus at Cozy Point to educate adults and children about organic farming practices, including how organic farms can reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
“Today’s food industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industrial sector,” Vardy said, citing mainly the refrigeration and transportation of perishable food all over the U.S. and the world.
The more food we can produce locally, then the less reliant we are on food shipped from far-flung places. Members of the local-food movement argue that “food security” is one of the greatest benefits. When COVID-19 shut down hotels, stadiums, restaurants and cruise ships, farmers across the country found themselves with huge surpluses of produce they could not sell. The food supply chain was hopelessly scrambled and thousands of tons of fruits and vegetables were plowed into the ground.
By contrast, during the same period, the 2Forks Club and The Farm Collaborative made a unique, community-minded offer to support their farmers: Take out a forgivable loan and “pay it back” in part by donating products that you grow or raise to local food pantries and food-relief efforts during the pandemic.
“This program increases local food access to all, while strengthening the impacts and resilience of our farmers,” Vardy said. “Almost every farmer in the valley has submitted an application or at least inquired.”
Looming in the near future is a new Farm Collaborative Learning Center at Cozy Point, a centralized structure intended to replace a number of the makeshift buildings that now characterize the campus. The Learning Center will be both a gathering place for classes and community events, and a functioning agricultural hub with a “learning kitchen” to process various foods, and a root cellar for food storage.
The center is currently making its way through the government approval process. Having raised about 70% of the money he needs, Vardy hopes to break ground sometime in 2021.
This vision of an agricultural learning center in the upper Roaring Fork Valley is a positive and decisive step toward a future of healthy, locally grown food, and an enduring farm-to-table community. By forging connections between farmers and consumers, the newly invigorated Farm Collaborative strengthens our communities and our bodies.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.
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