A new distribution center under construction in Cortez will allow more food produced in Montezuma and La Plata counties to reach local consumers and children in need.
A former 7,000-square-foot auto shop at 20 N. Beech St. is being transformed to house the Good Samaritan Center, a food pantry; Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative, a farmer-owned co-op; and a regional food hub, said Laurie Hall, project manager of the food hub.
The regional hub will provide education, sell food and provide a space to store and process food produced in Montezuma and La Plata counties, she said.
The three entities will be independent, but they will have a symbiotic relationship, as food is shared among them.
Renovations for the food pantry and the co-op are underway and could be finished in two weeks, Hall said.
The food hub will have a dedicated 4,000-square-foot space with a commercial kitchen, space for retail food sales, classroom space, art gallery and refrigerated and dry food storage.
The Good Food Collective in La Plata County is donating a portion of its gleaned produce to Montezuma County nonprofits and expects to use the hub to process food in the future, said Rachel Landis, director of the collective.
The collective, in its first year, is focused on reducing food waste, eliminating fruit that will attract bears, bolstering the local agricultural economy and providing fresh food to residents in need.
Landis expects the new food hub will allow nonprofits and other groups to work together more efficiently and provide a centralized place for food storage.
“We can have a stronger food system that is more economically viable that feeds everyone,” she said.
Once food is delivered to the hub, it will be redistributed through nonprofits that serve low-income families, Hall said. Food that cannot be consumed by people will be given to animals or composted, she said.
“Our goal, certainly, is to waste nothing,” she said.
The hub is backed by the Montezuma Food Coalition, a group comprised of The Mancos FoodShare, The Good Samaritan Center, Montezuma School to Farm Project and the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative. The coalition is working with other partners in Montezuma County, such as The Piñon Project.
“We hope to, over time, bring in more nonprofits as we are able to increase our capacity,” Hall said.
The renovations required to open the hub will require $250,000, and the coalition is submitting grants this week and next week to help fund the project, Hall said.
The Montezuma Food Coalition is also working with the United Way of Southwest Colorado, which may fund some renovations, Executive Director and CEO Lynn Urban said. United Way is interested in the hub’s ability to ensure fresh food is delivered to children in need, she said.
“This plan was very ambitious and was just born in the late spring,” Urban said.
In La Plata County, about 12 percent of the population lacks access to adequate food, and in Montezuma County, about 15 percent of residents face the same problem. That’s one reason why the La Plata County collective is interested in working with the new hub, Landis said.
“One of our goals is to more equitably distribute the food resources we have,” she said.
A boost for businessSouthwest Farm Fresh is already using a walk-in refrigerator in the new building and expects to start holding its weekly food pickups inside the building this fall, said Kendra Brewer, the co-op’s general manager. The business has been operating out of a mobile trailer and needed the additional food storage, she said.
“We have been anxiously waiting for our section of this building to be done,” she said.
The co-op is owned by 15 farms, and it markets and distributes food to restaurants in Montezuma County, Durango and Telluride. It also trucks donated food from the Good Food Collective in Durango to the nonprofits in Mancos and Cortez.
Processing centerThe Good Food Collective plans to use the new building to distribute and process food once the building is finished, Landis said. A processing center has been a regional need because “ugly” produce, which is edible but can’t be sold at local farmers markets, could be made into products, such as apple sauce. The new products could provide additional revenue for farmers, she said.
Processed products could be brought back to La Plata County to be sold to financially support the collective or distributed to nonprofits, Landis said. Other nonprofits also will be welcome to use the food hub’s kitchen to process food, Brewer said.
Food educationMichele Martz, a farmer and founding member of Southwest Farm Fresh, is excited about the cooking classes and seminars the food hub will eventually offer, she said. She expects the hub will also help raise awareness about how local farms contribute to the region, she said.
“I’m excited about the entity as a whole,” she said.
The food hub will also have an information center that will provide resources on farming, a database of labor services, information about farmers markets and agencies that provide assistance to residents in need, Hall said.