This planting season, Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado will host a free class for locals who want a say in what goes into their food.
The organization, which is formed from several agencies and businesses that promote local agriculture in La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties, hopes to use the five-month “community leadership training” to teach consumers how to change their food markets for the better. It will include a monthly class, to be held in a different community each time, as well as one-on-one instruction with mentors in the Growing Partners fellowship program and other resources. The first class is scheduled for March 11 in Durango.
“The goal is to give people an in-depth understanding of the food system and the skills to make changes where needed,” said Gretchen Groenke, of Growing Partners.
Although the course does have a curriculum, Groenke said it’s been left intentionally “vague and broad” because her organization wants feedback from locals on their needs and interests. The course will be more of a two-way conversation than a lecture, she said. But its focus will always be on local food production and strategies for those who want to advocate for the rights of residents to grow and eat healthy food.
But Groenke said the class will not only teach individuals how to become leaders in local food, it will also provide network opportunities. Everyone who signs up for the class is encouraged to attend the monthly meetings in each community, in order to develop networking contacts throughout Southwest Colorado. According to a Growing Partners news release, the organization “will do whatever possible to make sure (participants) are able to attend each meeting.”
The course is funded by a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, which also pays expenses for the fellowship program as a whole. It is being organized by seven Growing Partners fellows, including Groenke, although they will bring in other local speakers for each class. This is the first year the organization has hosted a training like this, but Groenke said they hope it won’t be the last.
In addition to the monthly classes, the course will include visits to producers across the region and an hour of individual mentorship each month. Groenke said 30 spots are available the training, but they are open to anyone, whether they’re producers, business owners or just consumers interested in food advocacy.
“There’s a lot of power on the community level,” she said. “There are certain ways we can bring that power together and figure out, ‘How do we make a difference in our region?’ We want to give people the skills to create the kind of community that they want to live in.”
The all-day monthly classes are scheduled for March 11, April 8, May 13, June 10 and July 8. After the first class, none of the locations have been finalized yet.