Canyon closure impacts access to Western Slope produce
Farmers are waking up early and driving excessive distances to continue supplying Eagle County with organic local produce
Farmers along the Western Slope are going to extraordinary lengths to bring local produce to their Eagle County customers as the Glenwood Canyon closure persists.
Cottonwood Pass, a relatively quick but less-than-ideal detour, is only available to those with delivery vehicles small enough to be permitted on the single lane mountain road, one local farmer said Friday.
“It definitely has added time for us this year,” Lynn Border, co-owner of Borden Farms, said Friday. “We really can’t take the passes like Independence or Cottonwood because we pull a trailer, so we can’t go over those routes.”
Borden’s team brings produce to Eagle County every Saturday to sell at the Edwards Corner Farmers Market and to deliver to members of their community-supported agriculture group, Borden said.
They take the commitments they make very seriously, she said, so seriously that she has been getting up at 2 a.m. every Saturday, driving six hours to be at the Edwards market by 8 a.m.
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“People are counting on you to be there … so, you know, you’ve got to figure it out somehow,” she said.
Coming from Delta, Borden said she has two choices: She can go north through to Grand Junction and up through Steamboat Springs and around to Frisco or she can go up through Gunnison to Salida and then through Buena Vista up to Red Cliff. She usually opts for the latter, she said.
Austin Family Farm in Paonia has been able to avoid such a heinous commute by splitting up their inventory into two smaller vans so they can take Cottonwood Pass into Eagle County, said Dan Carney, a farm employee and member of the Austin family.
If Cottonwood Pass were to close, as it did temporarily Monday afternoon, their operations would be more heavily impacted, Carney said.
Either way, the closure is a massive inconvenience for farmers, said Samantha Miller of All the Good Stuff, a company that aggregates and delivers local farmers markets products. It has impacted her business too, delaying deliveries and throwing a wrench in her plans to establish new partnerships with Western Slope farms like Bluebird Organic Fruit Company.
The dedication of farmers in overcoming this challenge underscores the importance of understanding and appreciating the work that goes into providing the valley with fresh, local produce, Miller said.
“It is just never-ending work, and they are so happy to do it,” Miller said. “They’re very committed and just amazing people that are growing our food and bringing it to us and I couldn’t be more grateful for them.”
As a small, family-owned farm, Carney said they deliver to just a few places in Eagle County. There is Miller, who relies on the Austins to fill her boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables, The Community Market, Eagle County’s main food bank, and a few local restaurants.
When the Glenwood Canyon first closed about three weeks ago, Miller received a call from the farm saying that they were in Glenwood Springs but could not get through and would have to drive all the way back to Paonia to reassess, Miller recalled.
After making the two-hour drive back to their farm, they separated their inventory into two vans and took Cottonwood Pass to make it to Eagle County and deliver Miller’s order, she said.
For Borden, the decision to do whatever it takes to make it to the Edwards Corner Farmers Market every Saturday is about honoring commitments but also about maintaining a large source of revenue for her business, she said.
Carney estimated that Austin Family Farm sells about one-third of their harvest in Eagle County.
Beyond the hassle of her new six-hour route, the Bordens have had to manage the increased cost of gas and employee time that has come along with it. They have also had to pay for hotel stays when Borden goes to Crested Butte on Sundays, she said.
Local agriculture certainly isn’t the only industry impacted by the closure, Borden said.
“There’s a lot of truck drivers and other people like dairy farmers, you know, they have to get their milk to Denver,” she said. “It’s really affected a lot of people.”
Still, Borden said disruptions to the busy season were worse last year when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled some markets, and the Grizzly Creek Fire closed the canyon for a full three weeks.
“That was really hard last year, having to cut back markets,” Borden said. “So at least we have markets to go to, that’s another good thing. I try to look on the bright side.”
Borden and Carney maintained a positive attitude about the closure, both commenting that situations like these are the reality of operating in the mountains, where travel is subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
“I know one thing – canyons were formed by erosion,” Carney said. “So, when people are shocked that a canyon is eroding, you know, I kind of expect that.”
“I keep thinking at least we live in a beautiful state,” Borden said. “I mean, it could be a worse commute.”
Dan Bryant, who oversees the Edwards farmers market, said the market’s two Western Slope vendors, Borden Farms and Wynn Farms of Palisade, have both committed to attending the market each week through Sept. 25 despite the closure.
“While [the closure] is extremely inconvenient, the Edwards Market represents one of their primary distribution and revenue sources,” he said of Wynn and Borden Farms.
Other local farmers markets, however, have not fared as well.
“My crew has been hit,” said Angela Mueller of the Vail Farmers Market in a written statement Monday. “Stories of vendors being stuck on [the] road for 21 hours … If there is a chance of rain, vendors have canceled to stay safe.”
The Minturn Market currently does not have any local farmers represented in its weekly Saturday market.
“They had a peach vendor there one week, but due to the canyon being closed all of the farms that they had lined up backed out unfortunately,” Miller said.
“These are smaller family Farms like Borden Farms, and they might not have the labor, like the workers, to be able to set up at two separate markets on the same day because Edwards and Minturn both fall on Saturday,” she continued.
Instead, a coordinator for the Minturn Market reached out to Miller to run a booth with local produce and other goods that she aggregates through All the Good Stuff, Miller announced Monday. She will provide produce from Austin Family Farm and other local goodies starting this weekend.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org