A wholesale distribution cooperative for local farmers and ranchers launched Thursday under the banner Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative.
The group of about 20 area producers plans to start wholesale distribution to restaurants, hospitals and schools this summer.
The group sees strong demand for local food.
“The problem is not going to be selling our product, the problem is going to be we’re not going to have enough product to sell,” said Vic Vanik, a board member.
Vanic is an owner of Four Seasons Greenhouse, and he can’t keep up with the demand from Telluride restaurants this month.
The group hopes that it will be able open up new markets while cutting delivery costs for local growers. Lower costs will allow local growers to reinvest in their farms, said Gabe Eggers, one of the board members.
The group’s steering committee formed in December and was replaced by an elected board on Thursday.
LiveWell Montezuma and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union have funded a distribution manager, who may start work in May, said JoDee Powers, coordinator for LiveWell Montezuma.
“We’re using that money as seed money, to get this off the ground,” she said.
The group is pursuing grants and loans for equipment and a building, she said.
LiveWell Montezuma will continue to provide technical support, funding and f assistance through 2016.
Producers from all across the region including Bayfield, Red Mesa and Hesperus have joined.
“My whole career I’ve dreamed of a distribution co-op,” said Miles Gallagher, who farms near Mancos.
Some farmers said they would love to expand their operations, but they spend too much time delivering food.
Matt Brewer, a farmer from Bayfield, sees co-ops as a way to increase food security.
“I believe it is the future of local agriculture,” he said.
The co-op won’t accept new members this year, but it’s compiling a database of local buyers.
Also, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has been an active partner, collaborating with LWM and the producers in the cooperative set up and helping with submitting grants.