There’s work to be done in Montezuma County and many hands to do it.
The work begins in the dark of winter when seed catalogs arrive and producers plant their fantasy gardens from a bouquet of bright pages. Seedlings are sown in hoop houses, on kitchen counters and in bathtubs, under grow lights in garages and atop heating pads in sunny windows. In spring, fields are furrowed and planted, row by row, tended and defended against battalions of weeds and armies of pests. The work is relentless: watering, thinning, staking, fertilizing. The harvest, though gratifying, is backbreaking labor that demands stamina, resolve, and impeccable timing.
Farm Fresh Cooperative gets it moving
A band of local producers has formed a collective, which aims to maximize the distribution of their food to public, private, and retail outlets.
Kim Lindgren, president and founding member of the cooperative, identifies the need for a cooperative: “To rebuild the infrastructures that can support a local food system, you’ve got to have distribution. You’ve got to be able to move it (produce) around.” To this end, the cooperative has purchased three mobile refrigerated cargo trailers that can be located to suit needs so that farmers have a cooled space in which to drop off produce. Later, a driver comes and picks up the trailer and distributes the food to the customers. This guarantees, says Lindgren, that food is harvested, cooled, and delivered in the freshest condition possible. Its carbon footprint is minimal.
Last year, Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative generated $100,000 of produce sales in and around Montezuma County. General manager Ole Bye explains, “Unlike other local food distribution programs, SWFFC is farmer-owned. Members act like shareholders. The farmers control the business. The coop operates on behalf of farms. Its goal is not to make a profit, but to break even.” As manager, Bye talks with customers in the winter about their projected weekly needs for the summer. Bye presents these demands for produce to local farmers, currently about 20 of them. The farmers then plan and plant their crops according to the projected need. Twenty percent of revenue is retained by the coop; the other 80 percent goes directly into the pockets of the farmers.
Participating businesses Stonefish, Pepperhead, the Farm, FB Organics, Olio’s and Zuma in Mancos, Open Sky Wilderness Program, and the Mancos Brewing Company all purchase food from SWFF. Other customers include Southwest Memorial Hospital and the Cortez and Mancos School Districts. SWFF also delivers to the Durango Public Schools and to various restaurants.
School to Farm cultivates a generation
Here’s what’s in the works:
Planning, prepping, and planting gardens at Mesa, Kemper, CMS, SWOS, Dolores and Mancos. Installing small heritage orchards at Mesa Elementary, Kemper, and SWOS in collaboration with the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP). Additional small orchards are planned for Battlerock, Lewis, Manaugh, and Pleasant View schools.Continuing the Youth Farmers apprenticeship Program with the CMS garden.Installing a high tunnel at the Mancos School Garden.Improving a wildlands educational trail at Mesa Elementary that adjoins the Hawkins Preserve.Implementing a gray-water system at the Dolores Schools through the use of a wicking bed.Beginning a Youth Farm Corps of local and regional students, ages 14-18, in collaboration with Southwest Conservation Corps, that will provide an edible education to 10-12 selected students. A weekly stipend is included for all participants. The NCCC volunteers will be working at all service sites and also volunteering their time to various non-agricultural non-profits. Any organization that could use short-term project help should contact Zoe Nelsen at (505)690-0462 or firstname.lastname@example.org .For more information on MSTFP or to help your student apply to the Youth Farm Corp program, visit them on Facebook or at montezumaschooltofarm.org.
The Farm brings it to the plate
The Farm also participates in the regional economy by sponsoring benefits and fundraisers on behalf of local interests. They recently hosted two popular events that benefitted the SWFFC.
Mentoring is another complement to the Halls’ wholistic approach to food. Pairing up with MSTFP, they are passionate about continuing the connections begun with School to Farm and taking the next step by offering high school students opportunities to work directly with local farmers. Plans are in the works to begin offering educational activities designed to attract people outside their normal customer base. For more information and to watch a short video, visit them at thefarmbistrocortez.com .
Laurie Hall claims, “Once you know what your food went through on its way to your plate, you are forever changed. That’s when empowerment begins.”