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Paul Andersen: Now is the time to support our local farmers

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The other day, I plucked a bright green chive from my garden, popped it into my mouth and was rewarded with a deep, rich flavor. Here was spring. Here was summer. Here was the vital force of nature — in my garden.

Scale this up a thousandfold in the Roaring Fork Valley and you plant the seed for a local food economy, something each of us can bank on with far more security than a TD Ameritrade portfolio.

How many have felt the gut punch of the fluctuating Dow Jones average as investments and 401(k)s tank along with the nation’s financial underpinnings? For countless retirees, the stress of financial uncertainty is as great as the risk of COVID-19.

Coronavirus has taught us how dependent we have become on the global macrocosm. Humanity is not only linked by the contagion, but by vast supply chains. As some communities are facing food lines and limited provisions, we recognized our dependence on supply chain linkages for our very survival.

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The virus also has shown how important is the microcosm, the local, the close, intimate communities in which we find sustenance and support. There is a growing need to balance large-scale food systems with locally grown organic produce available at community markets.

The local supply chain is far shorter, more accessible and empowering of a growing cadre of young farmers in our region who are eager to provide local food supplies. Now is the time to give them support and to nurture their enterprises.

When the big systems teeter under unpredictable events, communities must be able to rely on the local. If that local food economy is secure and resilient, the national and global systems are not so crucial, and locales become more independent.

For Michael Thompson, a visionary Basalt architect who designs sustainable greenhouses, both macro and micro systems operate most of the time as complements. Thompson, a baker of bread and brewer of beer who personifies localism in food production, recognizes the need for intelligent interconnections.

“Local and regional communities are tied to the national and global economy, and we benefit and suffer in parallel with it. However, some communities are working joyfully together, growing a local economy for themselves. Their local economy doesn’t replace the global economy, but runs in parallel with it, potentially functioning as a shock absorber, as a force for regional environmental health, as an engine of local economic renewal, and as a culture of relationships around food, art and talent.”

The savory chive I sampled is a reminder of that. While I still rely on grocery chains, an overlay of locally grown food sources can effectively nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. When Interstate 70 closes because of rockfall in Glenwood Canyon or a blizzard closes Vail Pass, store aisles empty fast. That highway corridor is symbolic of the big supply chains that can be interrupted anytime.

Our local region is blessed with a vital population of local farmers, mostly young people who till the soil and husband animals. They grow excellent food and are cultivating, not only produce, but local markets. Paonia is a short drive from here and provides a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables and meats.

A local economy not only produces food; it creates livelihoods, careers and budding ecologists. A local food economy revalues the land and the open space on which potatoes are grown, where sheep, cows and goats graze, and where fruit orchards are being reintroduced. A local economy is a legacy of the valley’s agricultural history when food independence was essential.

A local food economy is filled with educational opportunities on soil health, plant breeding, seed saving, food preservation, marketing, retailing and a philosophical sense of interdependence between us and the land, between our region and the rest of the world.

Coronavirus has shown that both the macro and the micro influence our lives, that the macro of scaled systems should serve as support for the micro of small, independent communities. Community must be defined, not only by our neighbors, but by the plants and animals with which we share a dynamic and mutually beneficial interface.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.


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