Bringing local food to the table
Local group kicks off 'New Year's Revolution'

Nathan Ballenger, founder of New Year’s Revolution, a local group that seeks to minimize the use of pre-packaged foods by placing an emphasis on locally
produced food, pours a homemade batch of rice milk through a strainer at his house recently./ Photo by Todd Newcomer..

Nathan Ballenger has big plans for the future of food in Durango. Along with 70 other local residents, he has formed the “New Year’s Revolution,” and what began as a push to avoid buying packaged foods has become a year-round effort to grow, consume and encourage local foods.

Last January, Ballenger and his wife, Rachel Cooper, picked up a copy of Adbusters magazine and read an article encouraging people to try going without packaging by getting their sustenance from the source.

“Packaging makes up a very high percentage of our food and beverage consumption, and there are major issues with deforestation, landfills, and air, water and aesthetic pollution associated with it,” Ballenger said. “From there, we got into a conversation on a community initiative for going without packaged products.”

However, Ballenger and Cooper also were realistic. “We immediately realized that our group would be very small if we tried to get people to completely go without packaging.”

Instead, Ballenger adjusted the focus, and the “New Year’s Revolution” became centered on encouraging local food production and consumption. “If you can get it locally, you can most likely get it nonpackaged,” Ballenger said. “Since we’ve started this, it’s developed into an annual focus on local foods.”

The focus begins with a seed exchange within the group in late April. The seeds are planted, and as they mature, the Durango Farmer’s Market comes into play as a means of spreading the produce. Following the fall harvest, Ballenger has plans for an “Apple Jam,” a festival including music but centering around turning produce into juices, jams and other foods. Following the “Apple Jam,” the focus shifts to stocking up a root cellar and dehydrating foods. When this food runs out in January, the actual “New Year’s Revolution” begins. Every two weeks, between Jan. 22 and April 22, the group will meet for a potluck. Although there is a focus on nonpackaged foods, everyone is welcome regardless of habits. After the passage of winter, the seed exchange takes place, the potlucks end and the cycle begins anew.

“Generally, we’re asking, ‘How can we be more local, and how can we be self-sufficient and have a sustainable community?’” Ballenger said.

A tray of locally harvested eggs sits in Nathan Ballenger’s refrigerator. Ballenger and others are trying to encourage locally produced food in an effort to cut down on waste./ Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The vision of the New Year’s Revolution is an all-inclusive one, and Ballenger said the group’s aim is not to hold people to unrealistic, high standards. “We’re not here to handcuff ourselves to a rule,” he said. “Everyone is welcome regardless of what they choose to do. I still buy packaged products. The idea is to see how far we can go and still be healthy and considerate of our time.”

By most standards, Ballenger has gone pretty far. He’s started making his own butter and cheese from local cow and goat’s milk. He makes his own rice milk, dog food and tooth paste, among other things. And Ballenger said he would like to do more, but that food production is time consuming. “There’s a lot more time involved,” he said. “I found myself spending weekends making food. But there’s definitely also a big cost reduction.”

Since the “New Year’s Revolution” began this January, 70 Durango residents have gotten on board to varying degrees and in various capacities. The group has also connected with and started forming partnerships with Durango Natural Foods and Sunnyside Farms to purchase non-packaged food and would like to work with local restaurants. Several connected efforts have also spun off of the group, including a seed exchange group trying to establish a Durango seed bank, a biodiesel coalition which intends to convert fryer grease into fuel locally and a group that is ambitiously working toward setting up a local currency.

Still, Ballenger’s view of the project is more sweeping. With time, he would like to see it spread well beyond 70 people and become relevant throughout Durango and La Plata County. In particular, he would like local farmers and ranchers to become the backbone of the revolution.

“This year, it has been very much word of mouth, and we’ve had 70 people involved at one point or another,” Ballenger said. “Next year, we’d like to get more of the agricultural community involved. We think farmers and ranchers should be involved with and inspired by a group of people who support locally produced foods.”

Ambitions aside, the group is not in a rush and understands that the movement may take many years to get established. “We didn’t want to take off at 100 mph. We hope that as an annual event it will organically grow over the years.”

In January, the first potluck was held at recent City Council candidate Michael Rendon’s home, and he has been active with the “New Year’s Revolution” since. Rendon said that the amount of local involvement has been strong largely because positive momentum for local foods has been building in Durango for years. “Local agriculture is supported very strongly here,” he said. “Watching the Farmer’s Market grow here over the last few years has been great. The push is on.”

For more information on New Year's Revolution, contact Nathan Ballenger at 385-3703.

Like Ballenger, Rendon has taken steps away from standard consumerism. “I’ve always tried to buy local foods and bulk and use my own containers,” Rendon said. “But now I’m going further. I’m totally off Celestial Seasonings now and making my own tea. I have cow and goat’s milk delivered every week. I also make my own toothpaste.”

Still, Rendon also admits to straying frequently. “I’m not a saint. I still go out and buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every now and then and plenty of other packaged foods.”

Ballenger echoed this sentiment, stressing that the “New Year’s Revolution” is not about creating an exclusive group and preaching to the rest of the community. Rather, the New Year’s Revolution is a push to get the entire community interested and passionate about local foods and create change from the bottom up.

“The New Year’s Revolution is not a quick fix to anything,” Ballenger said. “It’s going to be an annual process that will grow bigger and bigger. With time, we’ll figure out the way to better organize and advance the idea.”








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