When the Eagle Valley Food Policy Council engaged county commissioners and candidates in a dialogue about local food issues recently in honor of Food Day, the message was clear: Action needs to come from the private sector.
Candidates Jeff Laymen, Jill Ryan, Dale Nelson and Courtney Holm, along with current commissioners Jon Stavney, up for re-election, and Sara Fisher, all expressed excitement to talk food - even if they don't know much about the issues, as some so humbly expressed.
"I'm here to listen and to help build a foundation to have more dialogue in order to help make things happen," Fisher said.
Moderated by Todd Rymer, head of culinary arts at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, including the sustainable cuisine program, the Food Policy Council asked questions about a countywide composting facility, how to help local restaurants divert food waste to those who are hungry, support of community gardens and local farms and whether or not to allow genetically modified organisms (GMO) on land purchased with the county's open space money. Currently, there is a group in Boulder trying to prohibit the planting and growing of GMO crops on publicly owned land. Other topics also were brought up, such as what the county is doing to make land more affordable to encourage local farming and, thus, local food security, but this particular hot topic was glazed over.
Fielding the question of why we don't have a communitywide composting facility, Stavney said the county is on board but "is looking for private partners." And he continued to say the community should go to its waste haulers and demand the service.
Ryan and Nelson said they would support a policy banning GMO crops from open space, but Stavney said he'd hate to see a restriction like that deter ranchers, for example, from using the program.
Most of the discussion circled back to a common sentiment among commissioners and candidates: These issues - from hunger to school lunches to food security - are "community-up endeavors." Meaning, action needs to come from the people who have the interest, passion and ideas to make change, not necessarily through policy. They gave examples of private-sector success - independent groups such as Fresh Approach, which is working to bring from-scratch cooking to schools, as well as the people who've started community gardens.
As a Food Policy member - a group made up of local residents concerned about local food - I have no doubt in the power of the private sector. However, I believe policy has its place, especially with the banning of GMO crops and helping to reduce the cost of land to encourage youth to take up the seemingly impossible occupation of farming. We need more farmers. So I was a bit disappointed when commissioners and candidates shied away from the county taking real action, especially on the composting front, one issue that's not a federal one. This community is ready for composting, Eagle County, and we need your help to get it.
Regardless of seeing eye to eye, it was exciting to at least start talking about local food with our local movers and shakers. I sensed it was the first time some of these issues were discussed. But I, too, keep circling back to the fact that positive change erupts from dedicated and passionate individuals. Policy makers just help to make it more official.
On Tuesday, the dialogue on local food continues at Loaded Joe's with the movie "Fresh." Osage Gardens, an organic, four-season family farm in New Castle, is sponsoring the film, and if viewers are lucky, Osage will have fresh greens, herbs and sprouts in tow.
Organized by Loaded Joe's and the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, "Fresh" is the second film in the Sustainable Film Series, which happens the first Tuesday of every month.
And if you want to see independent, passionate people at work to reinvent the American food system from industrial back to the family farm, this is your movie to watch. It interviews all of the major players - from author Michael Pollan to farmer Joel Salatin to grocery store owner David Ball - and hits every major issue, from GMOs to the overuse of antibiotics in our meats to the problem with monoculture farming. It's a great 101 to kickstart your next conversation on local food.
Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the Eagle-Vail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, the Eagle Valley Food Policy Council and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.