By Mary Menz
People have been doing it for centuries—growing their own produce, raising their own meats, catching their own fish, raising chickens and eggs and bartering their food products with others. Since the early 1990s, however, there has been a growing movement of people that rely on local markets and community-supported agriculture for their basic food needs. In 1994 there were fewer than 2,000 farmers markets nationwide. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted 8,600 in its National Farmers Market Directory.
While community markets and co-ops are not new to the Western Slope food scene, there is a renewed interest by a public that wants to know where its food comes from, whether it’s local or sustainably-raised, sustainably-grown, or sustainably-fished elsewhere.
Colleen Trout, executive director of Valley Food Partnership (VFP), says the renewed interest is because people are better informed. Trout explained “People talk to farmers and producers face-to-face at their local farmers market and they ask questions about growing practices. They want to know if a grower follows true organic practices or whether a rancher has grass-fed or grain-fed meat. Consumers then form a connection with their local agricultural producers.”
Trout also said more people now understand that buying local food can be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly while also supporting the local economy.
A primary mission of VFP is to connect people with the land. One way it does that is with its year-round farmers market in Montrose. Weekly between April and November and bi-weekly during the winter, the Montrose Farmers Market—and other regional markets—facilitates discussions between agricultural producers and their customers.
Montrose Farmers’ Market in Centennial Plaza is OPEN during the Covid-19 Lockdown. Please have your list and bags ready so you can shop quickly and efficiently and practice social distancing. All tables also have hand sanitizer. Please use it. Click here (or image above) for hours and details.
Growing Your Own
A renewed surge in knowing where food comes from and “buying local” stems from increased consumer education, a primary mission of VFP.
“We support education in the schools and the development of school gardens,” said Trout. She said that VFP also partners with the City of Montrose and LiveWell Montrose Olathe to manage the Niagara Community Garden located in Montrose. Its more than 45 public garden plots support local gardeners who want to grow their own food.
Whether growing their own food or shopping locally, people are looking for options that support a movement that reduces the time and distance food travels, reduces negative impacts on the environment and supports their local economy.
“Local food is as fresh as it gets,” said Crista Meyer, who lives in Ridgway and is a dedicated locavore. “Local food tastes better, is more nutrient dense and builds community by allowing buyers the opportunity—if they want it—to meet people who care enough to grow healthy, delicious food.” Meyer is an advocate for spending money locally, too. “Why not buy local? I want the money I spend to benefit my community.”
The Western Slope offers residents a variety of local foods (and beverages) and makes it easy to find and buy local products. Take a look at the following options for purchasing direct from producers or purchasing locally at specialty markets.
Kinikin Processing in Montrose offers locally harvested elk products as well as other valley-raised beef. They sell direct to the public.
Divine Fish & Meat Market in Montrose features sustainable wild-caught fish, meat and other products. Owner Toby Vogt grew up in the coastal Carolinas and is a foodie by choice and by high-end restaurant career.
“It’s important to us that we carry only fish that is caught responsibly in a way that doesn’t affect the global fish populations that are being over-fished to extinction.” Vogt said most of his fish, like steelhead trout, cobia, and the succulent wolffish he carries are delivered fewer than three days from the ocean.
Blue Grouse Bread in Norwood sources whole wheat grain grown in Colorado for its bread, as well as other local ingredients. They sell from their Norwood bakery and at many Western Slope locations, including farmers’ markets and local grocery stores.
For people in the Ophir, Saw Pit, Placerville and Telluride area, Vicki’s Fresh Food Movement provides a variety of locally-produced meats, produce, cheeses, fruit, artisan breads, and coffees at a standard pickup location weekly. Residential orders are also delivered to Ridgway.
Meats and cheeses from dedicated markets are always a tasty source of goodness. Ouray Meat & Cheese Market carries fresh beef from Ridgway’s Orvis Ranch and and packages its products for sale in various locations outside of its fully stocked meat cases in Ouray.
South River Aquaponics (SRA) in Montrose raises tilapia and oyster mushrooms for Vicki’s Fresh Food Movement in Telluride and for Farm Runners Station in Hotchkiss.
“Our vitamin D-rich mushrooms offer many health benefits,” said Gio Mendoza, director of operations for SRA. “We also sell our fish and mushrooms to Natural Grocers in Grand Junction and Montrose.”
The Coal Creek Valley is home to Yurtstead Farm, which prides itself on its organic turkeys raised for late fall delivery. Orders are taken at the various farmers markets they attend throughout the region during the summer. They also grow produce, raise chickens for eggs, and cultivate cut flowers.
Farm Runners in Hotchkiss makes one-stop locavore shopping a breeze. Featuring locally raised wild and domestic meats, seasonal produce and fruit, artisan cheeses such as those from Rocking W Ranch in Olathe, as well as other dairy products.
In the Surface Creek Valley of Cedaredge, Ultreia Farmstead grows more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers. They also provide seedling plants at farmers markets for the grow-it-yourselfers.
Big B’s Delicious Orchards and Fruit Co. in Hotchkiss is home to hard cider, juices, and craft vinegars. Available at retailers all over the Western Slope, Big B products are also featured at its homey and electic café, shop, and orchard in the North Fork Valley just west of Paonia.
Known for its organic beef and pasture-raised pork and eggs, City Farm of Montrose offers free-range eggs and microgreens that round out a healthy menu.
These businesses are just a sampling of the variety and options available to locavores on the Western Slope. Whether looking for hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grass-fed, organic, heirloom, wild-caught, or otherwise responsibly produced food, the West Slope has you covered. Always do your own research to ensure your specific concerns and healthy food needs are addressed.
Growing Food and Community
By Mary Menz
Want to grow your own food, but don’t have the space to do it? Niagara Community Garden in Montrose has 46 plots available for individual gardeners. NCG is a collaborative effort between the City of Montrose, LiveWell Montrose Olathe, and the Valley Food Partnership. The garden is a response to the nationwide trend of educating people about where food comes from.
According to Colleen Trout, executive director of VFP, educating the public about where their food comes from is part of its mission.
“Too many children, for example, think their food comes from the ‘grocery store,’” said Trout, whose organization also supports the development of school gardens. “We want the children and their parents to recognize and value the strong agricultural history of the Western Slope.”
The NCG plots range from 10 x 10 feet to 10 x 20-feet, including some that are raised for wheelchair height at 5 x 20 feet. The annual application fee ranges from $15 to $30 for the various-sized plots and covers the cost of water for irrigation throughout Montrose’s long growing season of April through October. A $25 deposit is also requested at the time of application. If gardeners abandon their plots or do not attend the mandatory orientation or two community garden work days, they forfeit the deposit.
Trout encourages people to apply before the April 10 deadline.
Many other Western Slope towns, like Ridgway, Paonia, and Norwood also have community gardens. Put on some gloves and dig in!
Learn more at Valley Food Partners School and Community Gardens.
Apply for the Niagra Community Garden.
By Ninah Hunter
Don’t have your own backyard or one suitable for growing your own healthy, fresh, and organic vegetables? Get your green thumb on and check out the Ridgway Community Garden (RCG)! Now in its 9th year of gardening, RCG just completed its inaugural year in its new location on the north side of town at the intersection of Green Street and Marion Overlook in Green Street Park, before the entrance to Ridgway High School.
RCG is dedicated to serving the community in areas that include education, organic agriculture, healthy living, community pride, and community ownership. It currently encompasses a 1/2-acre fenced plot that it leases from the Town of Ridgway. The garden has plans to expand eventually to 1 acre.
Since its ribbon cutting ceremony on May 18, 2019, RCG has added picnic tables, shade, and a developed walking path through the garden and around the raised beds. It has a storage shed where members have access to various gardening tools along with a limited supply of compost. Irrigation water, of course, is also provided.
For the May-October 2020 growing season, RCG will have 43 raised beds (4’x10’) which can be rented for $50/year. Individuals and groups may share beds. A 20% discounted rate is available to non-profits or those experiencing financial hardships. Prior to the beginning of the gardening season, RCG asks members to attend a garden orientation tour. Members are also expected to provide at least two hours/month toward developing and maintaining the shared areas of the garden.
During the growing season, workshops designed to provide coaching in high-altitude gardening techniques will be offered for a nominal fee (children/students are free). RCG welcomes any volunteer willing to help guide and teach organic gardening techniques.
RCG is a program of the Southwest Institute for Resilience (SWIRL) with administrative support provided by a 6-member volunteer Steering Committee in charge of coordinating membership, communication, programming, developing partnerships, and overseeing garden maintenance.
When you hit one of the ‘”chain” stores, like City Market, Safeway, Natural Foods, Walmart, etc. here are some suggestions from Heather Rose Blakeman, Sports & Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Coach at Heather Rose’s Health & Wellness. We’ve added our own thoughts about protecting yourself and your family when you get the food home, as well as some suggestions to where to donate any excess food.
Heather’s grocery List. • Shop the produce area first. • Shop the deli area second. • Shop the “dairy” area third. • Fill 80% of your cart from the produce/deli/dairy area. • Shop the “bulk food” section next. • Then, only go into the aisles if you absolutely need to.
Bring the food inside.. If you’re using pick-up and delivery service—highly recommended during lockdown, rather than going inside the store —call in your order, keeping the same percentages in mind. If you’re shopping inside the store, stay at least 6′ away from everyone else, especially when standing in the checkout line. However your food arrives, in the back of your car or their delivery vehicle: • Wash your hands after you unpack the food. • Wash all the food thoroughly before you prep it. • If it’s boxed or packaged, wipe down the packages before you store them. • We suggest you leave packages out in the garage for at least half a day before you bring them inside to put away. • As an extra precaution, leave the plastic bags or boxes it came in outside and recycle. • And spray your door knobs with Lysol after hauling all the stuff inside.
Heather’s Food Prep when you get it home. • Prep your proteins first (bake your meats, boil your eggs). • Prep the veggies while meats cook (cut, slice all your veggies for the week). • roast/Sauté/Steam any veggies that need to be done. • Portion your fruits out for the week. • Portion out all your healthy fats (cheeses, seeds, nuts) for the week. • Package everything up and organize it nicely.
Fixing Food. Heather offers some great recipes for Quarantine Cuisine. Follow her at Heather Rose Blakeman to great tips on food and fitness.
Shop & Prep Notes: These instructions also apply when you shop the Farmers Markets and places where you can buy locally sourced foods. Always have your list handy (easy to keep on your phone). Try not to impulse buy—more likely to happen if your hungry, so eat something before you go shopping. Allow a little extra budget for special or seasonal items on sale, but don’t overbuy. Fresh food has short shelf life. Allow enough time for the food prep as soon as you get home. The longer you wait, the more likely you will have soggy veggies and smelly meats.
Excess Food. If you have more than you need at the end of the week, and it looks like it might spoil before you can eat it, freeze it. Or, better yet, share it.
Donate it to one of the organizations that is helping to feed the hungry, like Sharing Ministries Food Bank, Shepherd’s Hand, Ouray County Food Pantry, Food Assistance is also available on the Montrose County website. Also, many local churches and Region 10 collect canned and packaged food to distribute to the needy. So … when you are purchasing canned and packaged items, buy two—keep one and give away the other.