Britta Gustafson: Let’s grow a better future

Local food fosters community connection

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Growing food, eating local: the idea is as old fashioned as it is forward thinking.

What if we took an edible approach to landscapes, a more beautiful, flavorful outlook? Food should be all around us, as nature intended. What if we put more focus on local food as an edible amenity, a cultivated place in the community, a palatable public plot? How about a local food growing project, something more progressive than a small community garden?

We set aside plenty of space for recreation, and that helps to preserve our open space — or at least protect it from over-development. So why not add some edible enhancements?

We are rallying around eating local to support our local businesses. But we also should take a bigger-picture approach as our community grows look into the shortcomings of our actual, fragile and unsustainable local food system.

We want to improve our health and maintain more resilient immune systems. We want to help protect the planet and at the same time support our local economy. We want more community connections. And we certainly appreciate incredible, unforgettable meals.

We can have it all, by growing and eating more local food!

Local food is unequivocally better for our health; it is able to retain more nutrients by ripening naturally and can make its way to our plate before the good stuff is lost. When imported and out of season, foods that travel long distances are picked unripe and are then artificially “ripened” with ethylene gas. The fewer steps there are between our food’s source and our table, the less chance there is of contamination. Foods grown nearby may contain less (or even no) chemical enhancements, pesticides or artificial additives.

Among many other environmental benefits, eating more local food reduces CO2 emissions by reducing food miles, while also supporting well-managed soil and crop selection that can aid in carbon sequestration.

And local food helps preserve green space. What a beautiful solution to a global problem.

Producing and purchasing local food also can help combat growing food insecurity in our community.

Last spring, while recognizing the need for more resiliency in our local system, the Farm Collaborative, where I work, partnered up to launch an emergency food relief program in which local farmers produce goods for our food pantries to support our valley’s underserved populations. To date, the program has helped to distribute well over 5,000 pounds of fresh food for residents from Aspen to Rifle. It can be done and makes a difference.

At its heart, eating local means choosing and celebrating the best flavors that we have to offer, by creating meals from our ecosystem. Seasonal and sustainably raised and caught food is more ripe, flavorful and carefully harvested than its far-traveled and offseason counterparts. Eating local means one-of-a-kind meals, for us and for our visitors.

Not to be missed is a focus on how local food enhances a community connection. In our increasingly online and isolated world, we still find ourselves gravitating to one another around food. It allows us to unite around that which sustains us. And we could celebrate around the food that we have produced, counteracting the antisocial trends that we see emerging as we increasingly move away from actual social life and on to our devices. Growing meaningful human connections could be as simple as growing more of our own food together.

There is so much potential even in our Rocky Mountains.

Could our annual potluck community meal include sharing the food we have grown together? Uniting around the communal table could be so much more. A community food growing project could grow perspective, enhance our lives and give us a productive way to play that goes beyond recreation.

Eating local nourishes us, and it is the global solution, so let’s bring it home. Let’s be at the forefront of an old-time movement. It’s not such a crazy idea.

Britta Gustafson is the creative director for The Farm Collaboratove and a regular columnist for the Snowmass Sun. Email her at or visit to learn more about The Farm Collaborative’s local food initiatives.