Farm Collaborative promotes education, homegrown food production during COVID-19 crisis
Find a spot to sit each day and practice actively observing the surrounding environment. Go on a scavenger hunt in search of bugs, birds, traces of winter and signs of spring. Build a natural fairy garden or birdhouse made of recyclable materials with family.
These are just a few of the prompts put out to local families over the past several days as part of the Farm Collaborative’s “Adventure in Place” series, a nature-inspired week of activities leading up to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Farm Collaborative — a family-run nonprofit that aims to connect children and community to nature through farming and food — can’t host its annual Earth Day bash in-person. That’s why through seven days of various prompts encouraging families and individuals to explore the natural world, the nonprofit hoped to help locals maintain connection with the environment in-person while having to social distance from each other.
“It’s important to do these kinds of activities to show we care about the Earth and are not just in front of our screens all day,” said Lucy Taber, 10, of Snowmass Village. Taber and her sister Anna, 7, participated in some of the “Adventure in Place” activities over the past week and are active with the Farm Collaborative’s Earth Keepers youth program.
“This is not our Earth, we can’t just do what we want. We have to think about the plants and animals and other things and respect them.”
But while Earth Day is an international reminder to care for and respect the Earth’s natural ecosystems, so is the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to Cooper Means, agriculture director at the Farm Collaborative.
Though there haven’t been any food shortages in Pitkin County, Means said crises like the current pandemic highlight the importance of having access to local produce and meat sources.
“We are an essential business and I wish we were viewed that way more so because having a secure food source is of vital importance,” he said. “Now we see how fragile that source really, is especially since we do not live in a large agricultural community… agriculture is a good opportunity to bring more diversity into the economy and to create resilience.”
Means, an Aspen native, has been involved in food production at the Farm Collaborative on and off since he was in high school. He was really drawn to food production from a young age, Means said, almost feeling it’s what he was meant to do.
As agriculture director at the Farm Collaborative, Means has worked to both ensure valley residents have access to local food by producing it on the Farm Collaborative’s roughly 15-acre space adjacent to Highway 82 and Cozy Point Ranch in the Snowmass Village zip code; and to help facilitate education for kids and adults on food systems, including how to produce homegrown food and care for livestock.
“I just had a light blub go off in my head and realized the Farm Collaborative was an incredible opportunity for me to help light the bulbs in other children’s heads too,” Means said. “The positive impact it’s had on my life is incredible and it’s just a really good way to help educate and enlighten people by connecting them to their food.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Means said he’s done all he can to keep his staff of five working but now individually on projects versus as a team. The Farm Collaborative plans to plant all it can manage this spring and to work with other local farm operations to find new ways to create avenues to sell their products over the summer and fall seasons, especially if there are no Farmer’s Markets this year.
“We’re really trying to continue ahead because now more than ever we want to be sure we produce a lot of food,” Means said. “There’s plenty of demand for local food but it’s the avenues to sell that’s going to take some creativity in coming up with.”
Staff members are producing videos and sharing tips for locals interested in starting their own box gardens or in raising animals at home to further promote connection to local food. Means feels while homegrown food production is always important and relevant, projects started during the pandemic may help promote mental well-being, can give locals a sense of purpose and relieve some pressure on the larger food system.
Overall, Means and the Farm Collaborative staff aim to keep people connected to the organization, the natural environment and to local food sources through education and production despite COVID-19.
And for people like the Taber sisters, that connection is important and something they can’t wait to rekindle back at the Farm Collaborative property soon, a place where they said they feel safe and happy.
“I really like to pet and hold the baby goats and chicks,” Anna Taber said. “I’ve learned that the Earth is the only place we have and so we need to take care of it.”
“I enjoy being on the farm and making things with the fresh fruits and vegetables there,” Lucy added. “When you come into the garden it’s just such an ecofriendly environment that makes me want to protect and learn about the Earth.”
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The Melville family didn’t distance themselves from ownership of a local mountainside chalet for too long.