The Good Food Collective, a nonprofit based in Durango, extended its reach into Montezuma County this year, and volunteers have gathered more than 2 tons of fruit and vegetables that have been distributed across the region.
The organization gathers apples from neglected trees, along with other excess food from local gardens and orchards, and distributes it to places like the Piñon Project in Cortez, The Dolores Family Project and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
“It goes to mouths that need it,” Amy Huckins, Montelores coordinator for The Good Food Collective, said.
Many of these apples would otherwise be left on the ground to rot, Huckins said.
Nine volunteers from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a program that engages 18- to 24-year-olds in community service, helped Huckins gather more than 5,100 pounds of fruit and vegetables.
Cortez residents and friends have also joined Huckins in collecting fruit and vegetables to distribute locally. But Huckins did about half the harvesting on her own.
The Good Food Collective is working with EsoTerra, a new cidery in Dolores, to press and pasteurize the apples to distribute juice over the coming months. Last week, the group made 66 gallons of pasteurized juice at EsoTerra through Summit Mobile Juicing’s juice press, Huckins said.
Summit Mobile Juicing travels around Colorado, pressing fresh juice.
Huckins said this work is more important than ever with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents in Colorado. Before the pandemic, 1 in 11 Colorado residents were food insecure, and 13% of Montezuma County residents were food-insecure, according to a Montezuma County Food System Assessment. Now, 1 in 3 Colorado residents are food-insecure, according to the advocacy group Hunger Free Colorado.
Montezuma County residents interested in helping The Good Food Collective should list their fruit trees and other excess garden produce on the organization’s website. The information submitted is private, but Huckins will use it for future collections.
The Good Food Collective is stockpiling fruit and vegetable donations through the end of October, but residents can list their trees and gardens year-round on the website.
The website also lists resources for when and where people struggling to purchase food in Montezuma County can pick up free fruit and vegetables.