The Montezuma Food Coalition’s “community food center” will soon have a soft opening at the colorful corner of Beech and North streets in Cortez.
This is the pilot project for the center, which has been in the works for the past few years, and aims to provide a facility for produce to be stored and distributed through local nonprofits, along with creating a space for art and educational activities.
“It’s about nutrition for the soul,” said project manager Laurie Hall. Hall is also the former owner of The Farm Bistro on Main Street.
The soft opening is planned for June 1.
Hall said she came up with the idea for the center about three years ago as a way to assist food nonprofits with their facility needs, address food insecurity in Montezuma County and bring people back to the roots of good food.
“The system has become hugely dependent on commercial agriculture,” she said.
According to the nonprofit Feeding America, in 2017 13.2% of the county experienced food insecurity, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.”
In comparison, the Colorado average in 2017 was 10.6%.
Hall claims health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure can also be solved through more local, healthful food options.
Many organizations in Cortez are trying to address these needs, she said, but they face shortages of funds and storage space. The Montezuma Food Coalition hopes to connect the nonprofits to funds, food donations and possibly a commercial kitchen.
Plans began to take shape when the 20 N. Beech St. location opened about a year ago. The 7,000-square-foot space, which formerly housed an auto shop, would soon be shared by the Good Samaritan Center food pantry, the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative and the food center.
Initially, Hall and other coalition members called their center a “food hub,” a central site or headquarters, with nonprofit distributors serving as the “spokes.”
However, Hall said, the center changed its name because a “food hub” aggregates food and distributes it to wholesalers. For now, the pilot project will be called a “community food center.”
Much of the center’s food will come from the Good Food Collective in Durango, Hall said.
The center is operating as a nonprofit, under the sponsorship of Onward! A Legacy Foundation, which is helping it acquire grants and funds to acquire food.
The center collaborates with its neighbors on the same street corner – Southwest Farm Fresh and the Good Samaritan Food Pantry. The food pantry serves as the distribution site.
Ultimately, though, the coalition hopes that it can go beyond a storage facility and help connect young people to more nutritional food, through art and education.
Through art events, said Sonja Horoshko, chairwoman of the Cortez Public Arts Advisory Committee, students can create positive associations to nutritious food, and cooking classes and other educational opportunities can help expose young people to nutritious food and habits.
Right now, the coalition is converting the former site of Kiva Montessori school into the space for the pilot project. Coalition leaders and volunteers worked May 4 to clean the space and on May 16 plan to host a tour of the space and hold a vote on the center’s official name.
The larger facility still needs funding to move beyond the pilot project, Hall said.