During a workshop on Tuesday, the Cortez City Council expressed uncertainty about a grant proposal from a local nonprofit that they voted to support in December.
David Nuttle, of the Dolores-based nonprofit Needful Provision Inc., gave a presentation to the council on Dec. 12 about his plan to start an urban farming project in Cortez that would grow food for the Good Samaritan Center. The council voted unanimously to authorize a letter of support for an application Nuttle planned to submit for an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and to discuss the possibility of forming an urban farming advisory committee to oversee the project in the future.
But during Tuesday’s workshop, several members of the council brought up concerns about the lack of local support for Nuttle’s proposal and the level of commitment he was asking from the city.
Nuttle said the USDA grant application process required him to ask the city to form an urban farming committee. He described his vision for the committee as a group that could, among other things, recommend changes to city regulations and zoning laws in order to make urban farming easier.
“The committee has to do its homework and go through all the rules and regulations that are on the books that might be a detriment to urban farming, and decide what needs to be changed, what crops can be grown, what livestock will be allowed,” he said.
Although several City Council members expressed support for Nuttle’s goals, City Manager Shane Hale said he felt forming a committee immediately would be “premature.” He said he believed the city should come up with concrete goals for an urban farming committee before appointing members to it.
City attorney Mike Green also pointed out that major changes to city regulations, such as Nuttle described, could complicate the process of updating the city’s land use code, which is nearing completion after more than a year of revision.
On Dec. 12, Nuttle said he planned to work with several local farming organizations, including the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative, to train new farmers and distribute fresh produce to low-income families in Cortez. But Laurie Hall, president of the Southwest Farm Fresh board of directors, sent a letter to the council and The Journal stating that her organization had never agreed to work with Nuttle. He told council members he had contacted as many local agriculture organizations as possible during the 30 days he had to write the application, but he said most of the organizations that agreed to work with him were located outside Montezuma County.
Mayor Karen Sheek also raised a concern about Nuttle’s initial presentation on the project and questioned why Nuttle hadn’t approached the city about establishing a committee earlier.
“I don’t have a problem at all with the city endorsing the establishment of an agricultural committee,” she said. “Where I do have a problem is, without there being some sort of concrete plans laid out by this committee, that you use that as a vehicle to get a rather substantial grant without using the input (of) a local committee.”
She recommended Nuttle submit a grant application again next year, after seeking more input from local agricultural and charitable groups.
In the meantime, Hale and council member Orly Lucero said they wanted to research other towns that have endorsed similar projects and gauge local interest before moving forward with an urban farming committee.
Renee King, another member of Needful Provision, said she felt “attacked” at the workshop, which was attended by Hall and several other members of Cortez farming groups.
“We’re not here to step on anybody’s toes or take any little profit of theirs away,” King said. “All we are trying to do is help people.”
Hall said Southwest Farm Fresh turned down Nuttle’s request for support for his application because he had not asked for local input on how to meet the needs of impoverished Cortez residents, and because she and other board members felt that existing organizations, such as the Piñon Project, the Mancos Mount Lookout Grange and the Good Samaritan Center, were already working toward many of his stated goals.
“I think it’s easy and fairly superficial to look at statistics for hunger and food insecurity and child poverty ... and come up with a blanket fix that won’t really be a fix,” she said.
King said Needful Provision would move forward with the project regardless of the city’s involvement. Nuttle has already submitted his application for the $800,000 grant, which would come from the USDA’s Community Food Project fund, and he said he is also in the process of applying for a smaller grant to support new urban farmers.
During their regular meeting, council members voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit that will allow Southwest Farm Fresh to open a food distribution center on 20 N. Beech St., in partnership with Good Samaritan, which will use the building as its new location. Hall said she eventually hopes to open a commercial kitchen and retail store in the building, and Kristen Tworek of Good Samaritan said the extra space could allow the food pantry to offer nutrition classes in the future.