Setting roots
Local food movement expanding

SideStory: The Homegrown Retreat: Conference set for Feb. 25-26

A two-week old lamb and mother check out the camera at James Ranch on Tuesday. La Plata County agriculture has been on an upswing in recent years, and the Growing Partners of SW Colorado are hoping to get even more residents eating and growing local foods. The Homegrown Retreat is set for Feb. 25-26./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Will Sands

La Plata County agriculture is ripe with potential, and the local foods movement has witnessed strong growth in recent years. Locavore activists are now encouraging Durangoans to take agriculture to the next level and “cultivate a role in the local food system.”

Growing Partners of SW Colorado is a collaborative effort aimed at making locally grown food accessible to all ages, incomes and cultures in La Plata County. The group was formed in 2005 with the mission to complete a Community Food Assessment and answer the question “How do you put control of food back in your community?”

After hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of labor, the results of the assessment were revealed in 2007. In short, the study found that there is a lack of quality food in La Plata County, and the region is not “food secure.” To solve this shortfall, Growing Partners recommended a jump in the production, distribution and consumption of food grown and raised in Southwest Colorado. The message has already started to catch on, and the Growing Partners will offer more answers next week with “The Homegrown Retreat.”(see sidebar).

“Local food is the real deal,” said Darrin Parmenter, director of the CSU Extension Office - La Plata County. “The most nutritious food you can consume is food that was harvested just down the road, and you can have a direct relationship with the producer and see exactly how they grow. Plus, you’re keeping your money flowing inside the community. For me that’s the best food security I can find.”

Encouraging the community to participate in the community’s food system will be a key feature of the The Homegrown Retreat, according to Parmenter. There are few better places to begin than in a backyard garden, he said.

“We want La Plata County to realize that the best place to start is at the homeand at the local level,” he said. “We want people to be stoked on growing their own food and celebrate what we can do here with local agriculture.”

Parmenter is the first to admit that the local harvest is not without its challenges. However, he is quick to add that the payback is well worth the price. “We have a 100- to 120-day growing season if we’re lucky, and that’s always going to be our biggest challenge,” he said. “Rocky Mountain soils are also hard to work with, we’re at high elevation, and we get very little precipitation. But the garden is an amazing refuge. It’s a place for us to relax, connect and establish a relationship with our food.”

The Farm-to-School movement has been one of the brightest spot in Southwest Colorado’s push for local foods. School districts in Durango, Ignacio and Bayfield have all embraced the idea and realized that the health and education benefits of eating locally exceed a slight rise in cost.

“It’s not that much more expensive to look locally,” Parmenter said. “We love seeing local beef and produce in the cafeteria. It’s truly a win-win for the community.”

Jim Dyer, of the Southwest Marketing Network, has been vested in the local foods movement for decades. Like Parmenter, he noted that sweeping changes in what we grow and eat must begin at the most grassroots levels. Given the condition of the Colorado and national economies, Dyer made a strong argument for looking for answers inside the boundaries of La Plata County.

“I would like to hope that governments at the state and federal level will get behind the local foods movement, but that outlook is a little dim,” he said. “The local food movement needs to be a little more self-sufficient, and I think it’s going to be up to local citizens to make it work.”

The City of Durango and La Plata County governments could offer big help, Dyer said. He noted that the council and commission have thrown verbal support behind local agriculture and their efforts to combat climate change are vital to the longevity of agriculture. However, more could be done in terms of easing licensing, fees and bureaucracy for area farmers.

“That field has already been cultivated,” Dyer said. “The task now is to look at what other communities are doing to support their farmers.”

The City of Durango literally stepped into the garden last year, when it converted a section of lawn behind City Hall into a community growing space. The experiment got staffers out of the cubicle and into the dirt and produced an abundance of homegrown food. Parmenter said that he hopes such community gardens can grow onto vacant lots all over Durango and La Plata County. By starting with such small efforts, the local food movement will eventually set deep Durango roots.

“It set a great example, and people see that the City can do this and so can other neighborhoods and communities,” he said. “The garden becomes a place where people can hang out, meet their neighbors and grow healthy, nutritious, kick-ass food.” •



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows